ANNAPOLIS, Md. — An Eastern Shore artist who showcased the lives of African Americans during the early 20th century is the focus of an exhibit at the Mitchell Gallery at St. John’s College this winter. The show runs now through Feb. 26.

The gallery says this is the “first comprehensive exhibition” of Ruth Starr Rose, whose subjects included descendants of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

Rose, who lived from 1887 to 1965, resided in Easton and became famous for her depictions of African Americans and black communities. The exhibit includes paintings, prints and sketches of Rose’s work.

“This is a window of Maryland history in the early part of the 20th century,” said Lucinda Edinberg, art educator at The Mitchell Gallery.

This exhibit’s guest curator is Barbara Paca, a descendant of William Paca who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The exhibit has been featured in Baltimore at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture.

This exhibit’s guest curator is Barbara Paca, a descendant of William Paca who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The exhibit has been featured in Baltimore at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture.

Born into a wealthy, white and abolitionist family, Rose immersed herself into African American culture, Edinberg said. She belonged to a black church and grew up in a diverse community along the Eastern Shore.

Rose’s work as an artist stands out, Edinberg said, because she offered a glimpse of what life was like for African Americans on the Eastern Shore from the 1920s through the 1940s. Her paintings and lithographs were often of crab pickers, families and everyday people.

“For a woman to be an active artist (was rare) and this was a white woman painting African American subjects was even more rare,” she said.

For Rose’s family, this exhibit is way for the artist to get the recognition she “richly deserves,” said Nick Starr, Rose’s nephew. Starr, who has about 200 pieces of his aunt’s work, said Rose didn’t have a political agenda when portraying her subjects.

“I don’t think she ever thought she was doing something wonderful,” he said. “I think she was just painting the people she loved and grew up with.”

Barbara Paca, the guest curator, said the artist’s work has a color palette that is “culturally appropriate without being condescending.” She first stumbled upon Rose’s work more than a decade ago while having a portrait restored at a studio in Oxford, Maryland.

Paca, who has a PhD in art history, said she has never seen “people portrayed with that much soul.” In many of Rose’s portraits the subjects are smiling, which Paca attributes to them being comfortable with Rose.

She plans to tour the exhibit national and internationally in the upcoming years. For her, this exhibit is about assimilation.

“It’s not preachy,” she said. “It’s really lovely to look at and it speaks to everyone in a really positive way. If you walk out of there and don’t smile then we did it wrong.”


Information from: The Capital, http://www.capitalgazette.com/