Jewish Home of S.F. treasures its answer to Grandma Moses

"Show me some spirit, Harry!" continues Rothblum, and Banks complies by raising two arms in the air triumphantly.

That Rothblum has an easy rapport with residents of the Jewish Home is hardly surprising. The "Carl Rothblum Museum of Modern Art" actually consists of five swinging panels of snapshots highlighted by track lighting, located inside Rothblum's room at the home. In addition, the 90-year-old happens to be current president of the Jewish Home Council of Residents.

But many of the accolades being tossed Rothblum's way have to do with his artistic skills: Rothblum, who started painting 10 years ago, is the Jewish Home's answer to Grandma Moses.

Except Grandma Moses rarely painted penguins with tallit, as in "The Minyan."

"It's really nothing, just a few brushstrokes," said Rothblum when asked about his paintings. His artwork adorns the various hallways of the Jewish Home, as well as the homes of several prominent Jewish households in the Bay Area.

"I can't reveal who bought my paintings, but all the money went right back into the Jewish Home," said the artist. "One picture even sold for $3,000? Can you imagine that? One of my paintings!"

That his paintings sold for such a chunk of change may not surprise other people, but self-deprecation is one of Rothblum's most prominent character traits — along with a desire to give back to his community, a love for salty language and a keen sense of fashion.

On this particular day, Rothblum is dressed entirely in blue: natty chinos, a crisp polo shirt, blue socks that match his crystal-blue eyes — "I can't take any credit for those," he adds.

He is particularly animated this day because a gallery in Washington, D.C., has displayed one of his paintings in an exhibit focusing on senior citizens.

Like most of his work, the painting involved animals and a sense of whimsy. "It was a zebra who was losing all of his stripes due to stress," said Rothblum, laughing. Other fine examples of the artist's imaginative work include the dog in a striped sweater and snug pants, looking suspiciously like Brooke Shields, reclining seductively on a chair. Or the pug wearing a hearing aid, with a paw tucked contemplatively under its chin, called "The Listener."

Another one of the artist's favorite works features a beagle, a pug and a pig, which he calls "The Three Tenors."

Creativity has always been in the native San Franciscan's blood. His family, who resided in the Fillmore District when it was still predominately Jewish, owned a butcher shop at the corner of Ellis and Webster. Shortly thereafter, the family purchased a stake in a retail shop called the Baumgarten Brothers, which sponsored a local baseball team.

The team included a promising fleet-footed outfielder who went on to some acclaim later in life — Joe DiMaggio. To this day, Rothblum, who started his career by selling and designing household artifacts such as ashtrays, can name the starting line-up of the San Francisco Seals, the semipro team on which all three DiMaggio brothers played.

In fact, one of Rothblum's few paintings that is whimsy-free is a portrait (done upon request) of perhaps the most dominant pitcher of all time — famed Jewish hurler Sandy Koufax.

Although he never married, his network of family and friends still keeps him busy. A member of a Masonic society, which is now known as the Asiya Shriners, Rothblum serves on the group's emeritus board of directors. He became a 33rd degree Mason — the highest honor that can be accorded a member, and he still keeps abreast of the organization's charitable efforts.

Rothblum remains mum on the source for his inspirations. Except: "I look at the paper all the time, and look for the most interesting, beautiful and striking models. Then I just re-imagine them as dogs."