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Ruth Bocour; Managed Art, Papers From Husband’s Pioneering Career With Paints

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ruth Bocour, an arts patron and widow of Leonard Bocour, who pioneered the development of acrylic paints, has died of cancer at her home in Santa Monica. She was 88.

Bocour, who died Oct. 1, was probably best known for her work in curating the large and eclectic Bocour art collection, which traveled throughout the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s under the auspices of the American Federation of the Arts.

She also edited the speeches, and later the papers, of her husband as he visited universities around the country describing the paints he developed during a career that lasted nearly 50 years.

Those paints included acrylic resins under the brand named Magna, which were enthusiastically used by such artists as Jackson Pollack, Jack Levine, Morris Louis, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein.

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Bocour also applied her knowledge of chemistry to help her husband and his business partner, Sam Golden, develop a waterborne acrylic emulsion paint. That paint carried the brand name Aquatec, according to Jan Marontate, a sociology professor at Acadia University in Nova Scotia who studied the Bocour business for her doctoral thesis on the art materials trade as the support structure for creativity. She said that artists such as Helen Frankenthaler and Philip Pearlstein used Aquatec.

Although hard to believe from the current prices on their art, many of the painters using Magna and Aquatec were actually struggling financially during the years the paint was being developed. They would trade finished canvases to Bocour for tubes of paint needed to continue their work.

In the 1950s, according to Marontate, Bocour Artist Colors supplied small pots of paint for “paint by numbers” sets. After the Christmas holidays of 1954, the company was deluged with orders and made a great deal of money.

Ruth Bocour’s life in the world of art began in Philadelphia where she was born Ruth Schindler. She studied dance as a child and later appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra and studied with Martha Graham. In college, she enrolled in a premed course at the University of Pennsylvania because, she once said, women were denied admission to the college of liberal arts. She quit school in the dark days of the Depression to work at a research laboratory at Temple University but later returned and completed her degree.

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In 1938, she married Joseph Hirsch, a social realist artist who came to public attention as a muralist for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. His symbolic drawing of a stooped and faceless Willy Loman became a symbol in theaters around the world for Arthur Miller’s 1949 play “Death of a Salesman.”

The Hirsches lived in Paris in the 1950s to avoid the blacklisting of Americans for their political beliefs. They returned in 1955 and divorced. Three years later, she married Leonard Bocour.

Following Bocour’s death in 1993, Ruth Bocour worked to make sure the important historical papers detailing his paint business found a good home. Most of the papers--and the paint formulas--are now housed in the National Gallery in Washington.

Much of the Bocour collection of art, disorganized until molded by Ruth Bocour’s vision, now resides at St. Mary’s College, a small liberal arts school in Maryland. Included in the donation of literally hundreds of artworks are lithographs by Willem de Kooning, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro, Henry Moore and Robert Motherwell, and etchings by Jack Levine.

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Bocour also donated works by Morris Louis, including “Charred Journal: Fire Written V,” to the Jewish Museum in New York.

In addition to her art activities over the last few years, Bocour, a disciple of the Pilates method of body movement, continued to teach dance at her New York City apartment. She lived a bicoastal life through much of the 1990s until illness forced her to take up permanent residence in Santa Monica last year.

She is survived by her sons Charles Hirsch of Santa Monica, Paul Hirsch of Los Angeles and Peter Bocour of New York City.


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