Denishawn Dancer Ruth Austin

Denishawn Dancer Ruth Austin

This platinum portrait of pioneering modern dancer Ruth Austin was most likely taken in 1916 or 1917 by the well known California pictorialist photographer Oscar Maurer (1870-1965) after he had established a satellite studio in Los Angeles in late 1916 after leaving Del Mar from Berkeley. Signed Oscar Maurer LA in the lower right corner, the portrait shows Austin dressed in loose-fitting dance clothing with head scarf.

Ruth Austin, (1898-1994) a graduate of Hollywood High School in California, had enrolled in the newly-established Denishawn School of Dancing and Related Arts  founded in 1915 by dancers Ruth St. Denis and her husband Ted Shawn in Los Angeles- a school notable for becoming “the first dance academy in the United States to produce a professional dance company.” (Wikipedia: 2016)

Ruth Austin, cited as one of the original dancers of the Denishawn Dancers, is also mentioned in dance literature as having been a member of the Ruth St. Denis Concert Dancers as early as 1919 and later as a dance instructor in Carmel, CA beginning in 1924 at the Golden Bough School of the Theater  established by Edward G. Kuster. Austin first married and divorced American screen actor Richard Arlen (1899-1976-born Sylvanus Richard Van Mattimore) and later married prominent Monterey Peninsula real estate developer and socialite (Lewis) Byington Ford (1890-1985) in Reno, Nevada in 1937.

Ruth Austin’s obituary was published in the Monterey County Herald (CA) newspaper on December, 6, 1994:

Ruth Austin Ford, 96, of Alhambra, died of pneumonia Nov. 12, in Alhambra. Mrs. Ford was born Nov. 11, 1898, in Warren, Ohio. She moved to Carmel in the early 1920s and to Carmel Valley in 1941. She was a graduate of Hollywood High School and the Dennishawn School of Dance. Following graduation, she was accepted into the Dennishawn dance company and toured with the troupe for several years. She studied dance in Europe with Mary Wigman, an early modern dance pioneer, and later taught at Betty Horst Studio in San Francisco. Mrs. Ford taught modern dance locally from 1932 to 1942 and continued to teach until shortly before her death, teaching seniors at the Episcopal Residential Home in Alhambra. In the 1950s Mrs. Ford founded Children’s House, a live-in home for mentally handicapped children, in a small rented home in Carmel Valley. The home was run by volunteers organized by Mrs. Ford. She was also instrumental in the opening of Reality House, a home for young women, and Toddler House in Seaside. She moved with her husband, Byington, to Palm Desert in 1974, and to Ventura in 1983. Mr. Ford died in 1985. Mrs. Ford was voted Woman of the Year by Quota International in 1970. She was a Suicide Prevention volunteer and a member of the Church of Religious Science. She is survived by a daughter, Roe Maurer of Pasadena; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. At her request no services will be held. The family suggests that memorial contributions be sent to the Braille Institute, Los Angeles.

(p. 4A: © 2009 The Monterey County Herald)

print notes recto: signed in black ink at lower right: Oscar Maurer LA


print notes verso: in graphite on mount in unknown hand:

Ruth Austin
St Denis dance group

My High School dance partner


Provenance: acquired for this archive in 2016 from San Diego, CA seller.

Date for portrait estimated based on known age of subject at birth and establishment of Maurer Studio in LA;  title provided by this archive.

Denishawn Dancer Ruth Austin

Image Dimensions18.8 x 12.0 cm glued

Support Dimensions19.7 x 12.9 cm cream-colored cardstock