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Sylvia L. Rosen

(b. 1919)
American
Born: Ohio, U.S.

Sylvia Rosen is a ceramic artist, educator, and philanthropist. Born in Ohio in 1919, she was the daughter and granddaughter of artists, a family heritage which influenced her choice to study Fine Arts at Ohio State University in Columbus. In a 1990 lecture, Rosen recalled how she move from a more general course of study to the medium that would become the central focus of her career: “While an undergraduate … taking the usual courses of drawing, painting, and sculpturing [sic], I wandered downstairs of Hayes Hall, the fine arts building, to discover a whole new world. There were a number of display cases filled with beautiful ceramics. There were porcelains from China in many colors, celadons from Korea, hand painted urns from Greece, teapots from Japan, and other ceramics from many other cultures. I was so enthralled that I ventured further into the classrooms to find students working on potters’ wheels, spraying glazing and loading kilns for firing. This was the beginning of my long lasting love affair with clay.” [1]

Among Rosen’s professors was the noted chemist and potter, Dr. Arthur Baggs. She graduated with a BS in education from the university in 1941, and shortly thereafter married Nathan Rosen, a lawyer. The young couple moved to Cleveland the same year, where she studied at the Esther & John Sills Ceramic Studio. In 1943 they moved to Buffalo.

Rosen’s early attempts to establish a career as a craft artist often proved frustrating. In a 2004 interview, she recalled, “My ceramics were shown two years in a row [1943-44] in the May Show, which is still running to this day, at the Cleveland Museum of Art. There were no categories, no distinctions between crafts and fine art. It was the atmosphere that I was used to. … I went to the Albright-Knox [Art Gallery] to see about entering the Western New York Exhibition and was told, ‘We do not take ceramics. Or any other crafts.’ … The assumption must have been that we were all making potholders.” [2] In spite of such difficulties getting fine art institutions to acknowledge the significance of crafts, Rosen persisted, and in 1961 she received a Certificate of Merit for her work in New York Crafts 1961 at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, N.Y.

From 1963 through 1967 Rosen taught at the Creative Craft Center at the University at Buffalo, an organization she helped to establish. This was her first position as a teacher of ceramics, and through the Center she as exposed to other craft media--including enameling, jewelry making, and weaving—and to other artists and teachers, including enamellist Bill Helwig. [3] During this period, Rosen later recalled, “It was no easy thing for a woman to keep house, cook, be a mother, and do what she [wanted] to do.” Aware that her husband would not approve of her leaving their home to teach, she opted to work at the Center between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., when her husband was always in his own office. “I hired a woman to come in and do the housework. Then before I left to teach I would put an apple and an onion in the oven and put it on low.” The aroma was a ruse to convince Nathan that she had been maintaining her domestic duties in his absence. [4]

In 1968, Rosen began teaching a special program in ceramics for students at Amherst Senior High School (Amherst, N.Y.) who had poor academic records. She remained at the school until 1970 while also pursuing her MS in Education from Buffalo State College, a degree that was conferred in 1971. For the remainder of the decade she taught in the college’s design department. Her “Workshop in Crafts” class introduced students to hand-built ceramics, frame-woven tapestries, hooked rugs, batik, and other materials.

Nonetheless, the local climate for craftspeople remained dire: “We had the Buffalo Craftsmen from Buffalo State who showed in different venues around the city, sometimes in unused storefronts,” she later recalled. “After they went out in the 70s, craft artists had nowhere to go other than the 100 American Craftsmen,” referring to the annual exhibition at the Kenan Center in nearby Lockport, N.Y. [5] Rosen and her husband were frequent world travelers, and were very aware that museums in other countries were more hospitable to pottery, jewelry, and related forms. “We wanted craft artists to have a museum setting in which to show their work.” [6]

In 1987, the Rosens founded the Sylvia Rosen Endowment for Fine Arts in the Craft Media. The endowment has made possible juried biennial craft art exhibitions with purchase awards and craft art lectures by field specialists. The first exhibition took place at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in 1988. Since then, Craft Art Western New York has come to be recognized as a significant celebration of the diversity and richness of expression of the region’s craft artists working with clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood.

Rosen’s work has been included in many exhibitions over several decades, including the Cleveland Museum of Art (1943); the Buffalo Craftsmen Exhibition (1957-70); the Albright–Knox Members Gallery (1962); Art Today 1967, New York State Council on the Arts, New York State Fair; the Buffalo State College 125th Anniversary Exhibition (1996); the Contemporary New York State Crafts Exhibition (1997); the Ohio State Alumni Reunion Exhibition (1999); New York Collects Buffalo State, Burchfield-Penney Art Center (2004); and Daemen College (2005). She is in the collections of the Burchfield-Penney; the Arthur E. Baggs Museum at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; and the Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art at Alfred University, Alfred, New York. She continues to pursue ceramics study and work at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. [7]

Rosen received the Distinguished Alumni Leadership Award in 1991 and the Individual Philanthropic Leadership Award in 2000, both from the Buffalo State College Foundation. She has also received the Endowment Development Award from the Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies and the National Philanthropy Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

In 2012, Rosen was designated one of the Burchfield Penney’s first “Living Legacy” artists. In 2013, she received the Nathan Benderson Community Service Award from the Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo.

 

 

[1] Sylvia Rosen, untitled speech at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, 09/20/1990. Typescript in the archives of BPAC.

[2] Sylvia Rosen, quoted in Richard Huntington, “Arts and …: The Burchfield-Penney’s craft show exalts what was once thought of as a lesser art,” The Buffalo News, 10/15/2004.

[3] Rosen, untitled speech at BPAC, 9/20/1990.

[4] Sylvia Rosen, quoted in Richard Huntington, “A woman’s work,” The Buffalo News, 10/15/2004.

[5] Rosen, quoted in Huntington, “Arts and …,” The Buffalo News, 10/15/2004

[6] Rosen, quoted in Huntington, “Arts and …,” The Buffalo News, 10/15/2004

[7] Author unknown, “College Confers Honors on Four Alumni,” Buffalo State Insider, 04/2006, http://www.buffalostate.edu/insider/index.asp?article=2760. (Accessed 7/22/2013)

 

 

Listen to Sylvia Rosen’s interview with the Burchfield Penney Art Center, conducted on July 19th, 2012. Hear Rosen discuss why she switched from painting to ceramics in college and how she moved into pursuing ceramics as a career. She touches on teaching and her time in Buffalo. In 1987, Rosen and her late husband founded the Sylvia Rosen Endowment for Fine Arts in the Craft Media. She discusses why she created the program and her struggle to get ceramics accepted as an art form.