Selma Rebecca Bortner, 93, of Levittown, a well-known Bucks County artist, printmaker, and art teacher, died Sunday, Aug. 4, of a blood circulation disorder at the Chandler Hall Hospice in Newtown.
Mrs. Bortner, the wife of former Bucks County Common Pleas Judge Oscar S. Bortner, produced many works of art over a long career. Her paintings, prints, and sculpture were exhibited in major group and solo shows in the Philadelphia area, Israel, China, and the Netherlands.
Though schooled in both painting and printmaking, Mrs. Bortner was famous for her prints using nontraditional materials such as linoleum as the printing medium applied to paper.
The prints were a visual representation of her feelings about life and personal struggles. “I could not survive in this world if I could not do something creative,” she said.
At one point, she created an allegorical series of prints to evoke her battle with breast cancer.
Her art was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Woodmere Art Museum in Chestnut Hill, and the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown.
Executive Director Kathleen V. Jameson said the Michener was proud to have Mrs. Bortner’s work on display. “We are deeply saddened by the loss of such a remarkable talent," she said in an email. “Bortner was a bold printmaker and creative collaborator, whose fierce imagery remains profoundly evocative.”
In 1995, Inquirer art critic Victoria Donohoe reviewed Mrs. Bortner’s work then on display at the Philadelphia Geriatric Center. “Her prints show signs of struggle and headlong experimentation. And although her approach may appear awkward and jarring, she is quite inventive,” Donohoe wrote.
In 1997, Donohoe attended a solo show of the artist’s prints at the Michener Art Museum.
“Selma Bortner rummages in folklore, fairy tales, and culture, looking for items to combine with autobiography to create contemporary myth,” Donohoe wrote in The Inquirer. “She is on easy and familiar terms with the sources she draws on and her whimsical, appealing linoleum cuts have a considerable folk charm.”
Mrs. Bortner was honored by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1970 and 1971, the Philadelphia Water Color Society in 1975, the Philadelphia Watercolor Club in 1985, and the American Color Print Society in 1995.
She was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Joseph and Minnie Dudnik, who had immigrated to the United States from the Ukraine in 1900.
Mrs. Bortner moved to Philadelphia to study at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. She graduated in 1948 with bachelor’s degrees in fine arts and art education. She did advanced study at what is now the University of the Arts, the Graphic Sketch Club, the Print Club, and the Cheltenham Center for the Arts.
Ms. Bortner taught art at the Akiba Hebrew Academy in the early 1950s and in the Pennsbury, Bristol, and Neshaminy school districts from 1952 to 1969. She taught printmaking and design at Bucks County Community College from 1968 to 1991, retiring as assistant professor emerita.
“Selma was one of our most respected and beloved faculty members,” Frank Dominguez, chairman of the art and music department, told the Allentown Morning Call, in an Oct. 3, 1991, article.
Mrs. Bortner also supervised art classes for the Project Head Start program in Bucks County and organized art programs for the William Penn Center for Fine Arts.
She married Oscar Bortner in 1951. They raised three daughters in Levittown. Sixteen years ago, the couple moved to Langhorne. He died in 2015.
Her family said Mrs. Bortner will be remembered as an independent thinker and feminist concerned for the plight of the poor and homeless. In particular, she was adamant that women artists be allowed the time and space to express their creativity, and that recognition be given to their finished works.
She is survived by daughters Amy Bortner-Gialuco, Heidi Bortner, and Jody Bortner-Strawn; and a granddaughter.