Students of Samuel Rosenberg pay homage to their teacher in art exhibit

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"I recall a short, stocky bespectacled man who always dressed formally in a dark suit, white shirt and tie. His clothing and demeanor said that painting is a serious business."

"His studio was always open to students."

"He broke ground rules."

"He may have been a calm and disciplined man, but he was a passionate painter."

Samuel Rosenberg students Helen Citron Boodman, Hubert J. FitzGerald, Gloria Peterson Plemmons and Julianne Biehl, respectively, are among many quoted in the exhibition "A Painter's Legacy: The Students of Samuel Rosenberg" at The American Jewish Museum, Squirrel Hill. And while their comments vividly bring to life one of Pittsburgh's most important 20th-century artists, their artworks illuminate even better the impact that Mr. Rosenberg had on the region's visual culture.

The 74 works by 54 artists exhibited include paintings, sculpture, fiberart, ceramics and prints, some by artists who continue to resonate within the local art world. The unifying characteristic is not that they imitate Mr. Rosenberg formally, but rather the encouragement and direction each received from him.

"Mr. Rosenberg didn't change my orientation. He gave me one," said Dale Stein, who is represented by two hauntingly spare, somewhat Hopperesque works, the painting "From the 67" and gouache "3 am."

They hang next to Ray DeFazio's "Keeler Dome at Sunset," a luminous depiction of the observatory in Riverview Park, North Side. "He was serious. He was intense. He was a gentleman at all times. He showed me that Bohemianism wasn't necessary to be a serious artist."

AJM director Melissa Hiller, who curated the exhibition, remarks on the "celestial tranquility" of Mr. DeFazio's work and the "cinematic moment" of Mr. Stein's stop action of a neighborhood yard seen as the 67 streetcar passes by. She ties them to Mr. Rosenberg's own Pittsburgh scenes, the way he used light to symbolize "redemption and renewal."

In her astute essay, "The Spirit of Samuel Rosenberg's Legacy," Ms. Hiller delves deeply into the artist's teaching style, comparing him to, in particular, progressive artist/educator Robert Henri. And she makes a case for why someone with the talents of Mr. Rosenberg would not have followed the trail of success to New York as others were doing. Much of that related to his satisfaction as a teacher.

Mr. Rosenberg (1896-1972) was born in Philadelphia and moved with his family to Pittsburgh in 1907. In 1926 he graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). He taught, most notably, for 40 years at Carnegie Tech and for 39 at the Young Men and Women's Hebrew Association. He also directed the Irene Kaufmann Settlement's Neighborhood Art School, instructed at what is now Chatham University, and taught Saturday morning classes at what is now Carnegie Museum of Art.

His reach was vast and Ms. Hiller allows that she's "only scratching the surface" in this show. Nonetheless the range of students represented is impressive, "a primer of art in Pittsburgh," she says.

Rather than chronologically or hierarchically, the artworks are arranged to be compatible and to encourage comparison. Generations and styles mix, as do Carnegie Tech and Y artists.

"It's organized to create a flow," Ms. Hiller says, "to let the works talk to each other and play with parallels and juxtapositions. The youngest of his students are in their 70s now. They've been artists for half a century, and represent a number of stylistic changes and conceptual evolutions."

Abe Weiner's 1945 realistic genre painting "Monday Washday" is reminiscent of the Hill District images for which Mr. Rosenberg is remembered. But the sweeping light and movement in Rochelle Blumenfeld's two abstract paintings of 2008 -- "Cycle" and "Holding It Together" -- call to mind Mr. Rosenberg's later abstract period.

Some of the works show aspects of well-known artists that are less familiar, such as "Break of Day (Alba)," a 1960-63 painting by Aaronel deRoy Gruber, who in recent years has turned to photography. Jerry Caplan was admired as a ceramist during his lifetime, but few will have seen lustreware like his "Eccentric Teapot," or the work on paper "Experiments in Watercolor" that give texture and dimensionality to the predictable flat page. The late Marie Kelly is an unsung artist with two fanciful pieces, a more typical "Untitled" gouache and whimsical "Duena," a suspended fiber work.

Perhaps most engaging are re-discoveries such as Gloria Stoll Karn's wonderful, quirky 1957 large oil "Mother Bird Guarding Nest," and Blanche Galey Alexander's exquisite "Untitled" collages, which make me wish for continuing research into such artists with the hope of solo exhibitions to make public more of the legacy we have to celebrate in Pittsburgh.

"Legacy" continues through April 30 at the JCC of Greater Pittsburgh, 5738 Forbes Ave., Squirrel Hill. Curator Melissa Hiller will lead a tour of the exhibition at 1 p.m. March 27 (free). The Kenneth Love 2008 film "Samuel Rosenberg: Pittsburgh's Painter Laureate" will be screened at 3 p.m. April 17 (free). A closing reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. April 30 (free). Some of the artworks are for sale. The illustrated, hard-bound catalog, with an introduction by Ms. Hiller and essay by art historian Vicky A. Clark, will be available to purchase April 30. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free. For information, call 412-521-8011, extension 105, or visit

Off the Wall

"An Evening With Ragnar Kjartansson and Friends" at 8 p.m. Thursday in Carnegie Music Hall is billed as an intimate vaudeville-style show with the Icelandic artist whose solo exhibition is at Carnegie Museum of Art. A collaboration between the Carnegie and The Andy Warhol Museum's Off the Wall Series. Tickets are available at 412-237-8300 or at the door ($20, $10 for students and museum members).

Remembering Pinetop

Joe Willie "Pinetop" Perkins, the subject of Ragnar Kjartansson's 2010 video "The Man," died Monday at his home in Austin, Texas. The Delta blues great was 97 and the video, which induces warm smiles for its candor and character, is now also a repository of memory and tribute. It's part of the Kjartansson exhibition, "Solo," at Carnegie Museum of Art through Sept. 4.

Fiber juror talk

Internationally exhibited fiber artist Arturo Alonzo Sandoval will speak on "Creating a Place Between Art and Craft" at 7 p.m. Friday in Sixth Presbyterian Church, Forbes and Murray avenues, Squirrel Hill. The University of Kentucky art professor, who is Hispanic and Native American, uses industrial fiber in his colorful work. He philosophically sways between dismay over "low-down political ethics and the slow creep of social change" yet remains "deeply spiritual and hopeful for the future." He's in town to jury an exhibition for Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, which is sponsoring the talk. ($5, free to guild members.)

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas: or 412-263-1925.


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