Art Rosenbaum, artist, educator, folklorist and musician, died of cancer on Sunday, September 4, according to a Facebook post by his wife, painter and photographer Margo Newmark Rosenbaum. His work is displayed in collections and murals on campus and across the country, and his legacy lives on in the countless students he has taught and mentored.
The former University of Georgia professor and Grammy winner was 83 years old and had a decorated and rich career in art and music. Not only did he create works of art throughout his life, but he sought to preserve and document the creative contributions of others.
“I knew him…both as a really dynamic, sensitive, keen-eyed painter, but also as someone who was just this wealth of knowledge about Southern history and culture, music and folklore,” Jeffrey Richmond-Moll, curator of American art at the Georgia Museum of Art, said.
Born December 6, 1938, in Ogdensburg, New York, Rosenbaum attended Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in art history and a master’s of fine arts in painting.
Rosenbaum taught at the Lamar Dodd School of Art for 30 years, from 1976 to 2006, and was UGA’s first Wheatley Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts. His impact on art students at this time was demonstrated by the outpouring of comments online following news of his death.
“He was a tremendous and legendary source of knowledge and wisdom, a very active talented artist who led by example and mentored us, the students, with kindness and generosity of spirit,” wrote Jeff T. Owens, a a former student of Rosenbaum, in an email. .
According to a Facebook post from the Lamar Dodd School of Art, Rosenbaum worked in France in the 1960s on a Fulbright scholarship in painting and held a Fulbright professorship in Germany in the 1980s. He also taught in the curriculum abroad from UGA in Cortona, Italy.
His work is found not only in numerous collections at the Georgia Museum of Art, but also in collections across the country, from the New Orleans Museum of Art to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
In 2006, the Georgia Museum of Art featured Rosebaum’s work in the exhibition “Weaving His Art on Golden Looms: Paintings and Drawings by Art Rosenbaum”, and published a book of his work of the same name.
Rosenbaum painted many murals throughout his career, including two on the UGA campus: “The World at Large Mural” at the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts and “Doors” at the Richard Special Collections Libraries Building. B. Russell Jr.
Richmond-Moll described Rosenbaum’s works as figurative paintings illustrating history, often focusing on the passage of time.
“All his figures always seem to vibrate with energy. [He used] really vigorous brushstrokes and colors as a way to bring to life this kind of history that happened and is happening in the present,” Richmond-Moll said.
Artist and musician Tyrus Lytton had known Rosenbaum for over 20 years.
“He was really interested in people and their stories. He always wanted to know more. I think his work reflects that. It’s very human. [It’s] stories that people can relate to,” Lytton said.
In addition to her vibrant career in the visual arts, Rosenbaum has devoted much of her life to the preservation of traditional American music.
He toured the country with his wife for over 50 years, recording blues, spirituals, fiddle tunes, ballads and more.
“They really worked together,” Richmond-Moll said of the couple. “She was there with him photographing the people and the communities he was documenting.”
He published the collection in 2007 in “Art of Field Recording: 50 Years of Traditional American Music,” which won a Grammy the following year for Best Historical Album and featured photographs and artwork of the pair.
As a documentarian, Rosenbaum preserved the musical and artistic work of others to tell the story of the South.
“[For Rosenbaum], it was about highlighting the contributions of others whose stories may not have been told…especially those musical traditions among black and South African diasporic communities,” Richmond-Moll said. “I think the significant work was the documentation he was doing of those communities.”
Rosenbaum himself played the banjo and performed at the North Georgia Folk Festival and with the Around the Globe Sea Chantey Singers.
Lytton started the sailor’s shack singing group after taking Rosenbaum’s painting course where music was often incorporated. The two found a common interest in sea shanties and other traditional music.
They started meeting in downtown Athens with other musicians. Everyone was welcome, and at the peak of the group in the late 2000s, 50 to 60 musicians were involved, according to Lytton.
“Art [Rosenbaum] was kind of the keystone of everything,” Lytton said. “He was really interested in so many types of music and the people who made it. He made friends wherever he went.
Rosenbaum’s last completed painting was a portrait of Michael Stipe, the lead singer of REM and one of his former students. The painting was last exhibited in New York, in an exhibition titled “Art Rosenbaum: A Brand New Painting and Some Others,” curated by Tif Sigfrids.
“It’s another Art Rosenbaum legacy, it’s through people like [Stipe]who were able to express the kind of creative energy and power that they could have learned working with him in college,” Lytton said.
Educator, documentarian, painter, muralist, singer, husband and valued friend, Rosenbaum will be greatly missed by the local creative community and the larger role he played in the broader American art scene.