The Ruth Braunstein Oral History Project

In 2014, Paul Karlstrom conducted an oral history project, consisting of five interviews with Ruth and fourteen with artists and art-world friends of Ruth, which has been accepted by the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Following is an excerpt from his essay for a Fouladi Projects exhibition in her honor and quotes from the interviews:


When asking people about Ruth . . . the answer invariably begins, “Oh, everybody loves Ruth,” though sometimes an acknowledgment of the competitive and even feisty side of her personality emerges. But above all, her unwavering devotion to artists, along with her ecumenical tastes and interests in diverse and unconventional artistic expression, are the qualities that are repeatedly noted and widely admired.

Cissie Swig with Ruth Braunstein receiving a lifetime achievement award, May 20th 2010.

Cissie Swig with Ruth Braunstein receiving a lifetime achievement award, May 20th 2010.

Ruth has undeniably earned the respect she has received for her contributions to our cultural life. She is rightly honored for her roles as founding director of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association and as a founding member of ArtTable, which reflects her commitment to women art professionals and their contributions. But she may be proudest of her work as founder and the driving force behind ArtCare, which is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of public art in San Francisco. Ruth has the courage and strength of her convictions, and it is this focused determination, combined with a sense of right and wrong, that guides her.

An anecdote from her youth may serve to explain in some part Ruth’s indomitable character. Her first great enthusiasm was physical activity (to this day she takes pride in her strength and athletic ability). “I could outrun my brother, Harold, and all of our friends.” She was what at the time they called a tomboy, competitive and determined to succeed once she took something on. These qualities certainly served her well in maintaining the gallery over the years and doing so on her own terms. Another youthful interest, music—combined with her love of physical movement—led to the study of dance . . . She came to appreciate that all artistic expression is not only related but unified. That concept and her fierce independence combined to make her the important figure she has become in the art world of San Francisco.


Her passion and belief in the artists and commitment to them was unparalleled . . . You wouldn’t dare miss one of her shows. If anybody reflected the Bay Area aesthetics, the artists she chose really did.


In order to get to my studio, you had to climb over a fence and then go by the watering trough. And she sort of hiked up her dress and vaulted over this fence that was like this high. Holy Toledo! That was pretty impressive.


The great thing about Ruth was that she was always interested in our ideas about things . . . She connected with artists and with everybody on such a personal level . . . such a genuine interest in them as people, one of her great strengths.


If she believed in you as an artist, then she would do whatever it took to make you shine.


Well, she knew what she wanted. She got good artists [and] she was especially important in terms of California ceramics and clay. I once asked her, “How come you don’t send me announcements of your shows anymore?” And she said, “Because you don’t buy anything from me.” That’s how direct she was.