It’s not just the purple streak in her hair that sets native Rhode Islander Barbara Rosenbaum apart. The smart, brash and opinionated woman has forged her own distinct path to the visual arts. For over thirty years, Rosenbaum worked as a speech and language pathologist with autistic children both in the Providence school system and at Sargent Rehabilitation Center. It wasn’t until after she retired that she found herself picking up a paint brush to learn how to paint.
“I knew so many artists,” Rosenbaum explained, “I thought painting was something I’d be interested in.” Although she had never painted before, she loved doing creative things. Rosenbaum made her own jewelry and designed spectacular gardens with her late husband Paul Levitt. She enjoyed designing and rehabbing interiors and cooking gourmet dinners. Even her approach to working with autistic children was creative.
When Rosenbaum started her career as a speech and language pathologist, language therapy was in its infancy. She had no strict guide book to helping children. “You had to be creative, to think on your feet,” Rosenbaum explains. “There was no one formula. You had to find the key to each kid.” She used arts and crafts and even cooking to forge a bond with the children. She wasn’t always successful, but she did have her successes.
After retiring, Rosenbaum started taking painting and drawing classes with Richard Harrington and then Ida Schmulowitz at the Handicraft Club. She still takes classes today and works in her 3rd floor home studio. She is a guiding force and assistant curator at the non-profit New Hope Gallery in the Cranston Senior Center on 1070 Cranston Street, Cranston. Along with New Hope Gallery founder Ricky Gagnon, and fellow curator, David Koukol, she helps to run the gallery installing artwork throughout the large two-story building.
Her pastel and charcoal drawings shown at the BankRI Pitman Gallery are a bit like Rosenbaum. They are confident, strong still life’s with both subtle tone variations and bold line. Unusual compositions couple with a rich but limited palette of browns, whites and blacks. Some have bursts of strong color. Rosenbaum likes to get into the drawing, covering herself with as much charcoal as she gets on the page.
“I have an affinity for charcoal,” Rosenbaum says. “Until I picked up a piece of charcoal, I was still drawing stick figures.”