Ethel Louise Wirtshafter

Maiden Name: 
Dr Robert Wirtshafter
David Wirtshafter, PhD
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Chicago, IL
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Glenview, IL
9758 S. Vanderpoel Ave., Chicago, IL
Active In: 
Pacific Northwest and Chicago
Painting - Oil
Painting - Watercolor
The Vanderpoel Art Association, Chicago
The Beverly Arts Center, Chicago, “The Art of Ethel Wirtshafter, A Solo Exhibition,” 2001
Lifetime Achievement Exhibit at The Walker Branch of the Chicago Public Library, 2003
The Beverly Arts Center, Board Member
The Vanderpoel Art Association, Board Trustee and Director of the Art School
The National League of American Pen Women
The Vanderpoel Art Association
The Beverly Arts Center
The Church of the Holy Nativity, Chicago
Chesterfield Bank, Chicago
The Beverly Bank, Chicago
Private collections in Chicago, New York, Kansas, Florida and Washington D.C.
Graduate of Northwestern University, Evanston, B.A. Speech, 1931
Attended art classes at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and The University of Chicago.
Other Occupations: 
Art, Drama and Yoga Teacher;
Photographer with Harry Johnson Studios

Born in Chicago, Illinois, August 7, 1909, Ethel L. Wirtshafter was active as a photographer, printmaker, painter and batik artist. Born and raised in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, she was the first of two daughters born to Linda and Emil Kopp, Jr. After graduating from Northwestern University in Evanston, (B.A., Speech, 1931) she traveled to the Pacific Northwest to take a job as a teacher in the Campfire Girls Camp Sealth on Vashon Island, Washington. She carved a series of linoleum block prints about the history of the island and the camp which were compiled into the book Sealth. The blocks were carved by candlelight as there was no electricity in the rustic camp. Later, while teaching at Camp Namanu in Bull Run, Oregon, she illustrated a second book of linoleum block prints called Namanu. A third book of etchings based on The Rhyme of The Ancient Mariner was also created while living in the Pacific Northwest. Returning to Illinois in 1935, she taught school at Ferry Hall Academy in Lake Forest and also painted a mural there. From the late 1930’s and throughout the 1940’s, she worked as a professional photographer with Harry Johnson Studios, often working at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago taking celebrity portraits.

After World War II, she married Dr. Robert Wirtshafter. They moved to the Beverly neighborhood of Chicago and Robert established his pediatric practice there. Robert encouraged her to continue her art training which she did by enrolling in classes at both the University of Chicago and at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The family often traveled abroad and on one such trip she was inspired by batiks seen in Yugoslavia. Upon return, she began to experiment with the process. The result was a figurative batik style for which she is best known and the work she would focus on from this point on.

In addition to her accomplishments as an artist, she was active in various arts organizations including The Vanderpoel Art Association, The Beverly Arts Center and The National League of American Pen Women. She was a beloved art teacher for over forty five years. In 2003 she was honored by the Beverly/Morgan Park communities of Chicago, where she resided, for her lifetime commitment to the arts. She passed away on February 2, 2009 at the age of 99 in Glenview, Illinois.

References: Ethel Wirtshafter, 1909-2009: An Artist’s Life, A Century in the Making, by Mary Lenzini, presented at the 2015 Midwest Women Artists Symposium, Bradley University, October 23, 2015

Essay submitted by artist and curator, Mary Lenzini