“Fragile,” blown and sandblasted glass, by Carol Roseman.
“Fragile,” blown and sandblasted glass, by Carol Roseman.

After long, eclectic career, her creative drive is a ‘volcano’

“I didn’t know what was wrong with me when I was growing up,” says Carol Roseman, 71, of San Francisco. “It turned out that I was an artist.”

Roseman began to unpack her feelings as a college student in Cincinnati, her hometown. “You experience the world a certain way, and try to figure things out. I had this tremendous need to express that,” she said. “I’ve never really understood the world around me — that’s why I ended up studying anthropology. I was always trying to figure out why people did the things they did … It’s really not much different than art. It’s a kind of questioning.”

Roseman took courses at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and, later, the San Francisco Art Institute. She managed to marry those interests as the founding director of the creative arts program at the Jewish Home for the Aged in San Francisco. Roseman pitched the idea in 1978 and ran with it for the next eight years.

The arts program still exists at the nonprofit. Roseman “single-handedly developed opportunities for our residents to learn, grow, and flourish through the arts,” said Sherie Koshover, executive adviser for public affairs and legacy relations at the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living (formerly the Jewish Home).

“The art that came out of that program was diverse and unique in so many ways,” added Koshover, now in her 47th year with the institution, and Roseman’s lifelong friend.

Roseman said she enjoyed working with the residents and “loved the idea that these older adults would come into the art room to create.” Most had little or no artistic background.

Carol Roseman grinding and polishing a glass box for her sculpture, "Fragile,” in 2012. (Photo/Courtesy Carol Roseman)
Carol Roseman grinding and polishing a glass box for her sculpture, “Fragile,” in 2012. (Photo/Courtesy Carol Roseman)

Every once in a while, there was an exception. That was certainly the case with Bernard Zakheim, the San Francisco muralist best known for his Coit Tower panels. He spent his last years at the Jewish Home, introducing himself to Roseman as “a chicken farmer from Petaluma.”

“He was my most accomplished artist,” she said.

At a typical session, Roseman “would do a minimal sketch” to get people started, then “encourage them and facilitate the process,” she said. In her eyes, any resident who created something was an artist. “I have a lot of respect for that,” she said.

According to Koshover, not only did Roseman build a robust arts program, but she personally framed all of the art, got a ladder and a hammer and hung the paintings on the walls. She’d even rotate the art every few months, so that residents with limited mobility could view different works, and she arranged to have their work displayed at local banks, boutiques and other small venues.

In 1980 the Jewish Home’s Auxiliary commissioned Roseman to paint a mural on the unit that served the most impaired residents. “Recognizing that so many of the residents had once lived in the Sunset District,” Koshover said, Roseman “depicted a typical Sunset District home, and a soothing sunset that stretched along a 12×60-foot length of hallway.”

Roseman didn’t stop there. “I got the Home to purchase a video camera and started working with residents to interview each other about their activities. We’d show those videos in the main lounge. It was very well attended and popular.”

She also got a grant to purchase disposable cameras, so residents could take pictures and have them developed.

Years later, when her mother moved to the Moldaw Residences, Roseman was instrumental in creating an onsite ceramics studio at the Palo Alto facility. “My mom worked in that studio at least five hours a day,” Roseman recalled. Jan Roseman took up ceramics after visiting her daughter in her college ceramics studio.

"Exposed" (left) and "Splash" (right), artworks by Carol Roseman that have been selected for the current deYoung Open exhibition.
“Exposed” (left) and “Splash” (right), artworks by Carol Roseman that have been selected for the current de Young Open exhibition.

Though Roseman loved her job at the Jewish Home, she switched careers when she was in her 30s. “One of my claims to fame is that I am one of the first Jewish women electricians in California,” she said.

While working at the Jewish Home, she’d observed a woman working on a building under construction nearby. Intrigued (“I always loved tools”), Roseman spoke to the woman about her job.

Attracted to the idea of being outside and “earning equal pay for equal work,” she joined the local electricians’ union and went through an apprenticeship program, which led to work on traffic signals and street lights in Oakland. “It was very physical — heavy lifting, dangerous work,” she recalled. Roseman sought to counter those risks by becoming an electrical inspector for the building department of San Francisco.

Yet, during her 25 years as an electrician, “I shut down the whole creative part of me.” When she retired in 2011, “it was like someone unpacked a volcano. It just came charging out of me.”

The multimedia artist spends most of her days in her Bayview studio. She has shown her work throughout the Bay Area, and two of her paintings are on display in the de Young Open in San Francisco. The museum’s juried community art exhibition sought local submissions relating to the theme “On the Edge.” Roseman was among the 762 artists (out of 6,190 applicants) whose works were accepted. The exhibit first opened in an online gallery, but the de Young reopens for in-person visits on Oct. 10. (Tickets must be purchased in advance.)

“Splash” is a musing on color, perceptions and reality. “Exposed,” consisting of small squares mounted on a bright orange field, is a musing on the sky. “I became kind of enamored of the idea of the color blue to white,” Roseman said.

Though she attended Sunday school as a child, Roseman “really wasn’t interested” in Judaism back then. Her father was raised Orthodox but “didn’t practice [Judaism] at all once he married. On the High Holidays, he turned on opera singer Jan Peerce and listened to it while we ate brisket,” she said.

“Judaism came up again for me kind of tangentially because of art. Art is a metaphor. I looked up Jewish mysticism, came up with the Zohar,” and began taking classes through Berkeley-based Lehrhaus Judaica.

“Mysticism brought me really deeply into Judaism,” Roseman said, and added depth to her painting. “There’s always one more thing,” she said.

For information about Carol Roseman’s art, see carolroseman.com. Details on the de Young Open can be found at deyoung.famsf.org/exhibitions/de-young-open.

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.