Museum honors professor

Exhibit focuses on Samuel Rosenberg's legacy as a teacher

Anna Walsh Mar 20, 2011

Few professors can claim to have been a major influence in the work of four generations of students. Samuel Rosenberg, however, is one such professor. It is his incredible influence as a Carnegie Tech professor that is the focus of the American Jewish Museum’s current exhibit, A Painter’s Legacy: The Students of Samuel Rosenberg.

“Even though there are a lot of art professors in Pittsburgh, and we have such great [art] institutions ... Samuel Rosenberg leaves a very distinctive legacy that four generations of artists point back to as being the major influence in their work, as well as in their lives,” said Melissa Hiller, the director of the American Jewish Museum and curator of the exhibit. Rosenberg’s teaching career spanned four decades, during which he served as a professor at the Carnegie Institute of Technology and founded art departments at both the Irene Kaufmann Settlement, a private philanthropic agency, and the Isaac Seder Educational Center at the Young Men and Women’s Hebrew Association (YM&WHA), until his retirement in 1964. Some of his most famous students included Philip Pearlstein, a colleague of Andy Warhol; Mel Bochner, an accomplished conceptual artist; and Carnegie Mellon’s most famous art student, Andy Warhol himself.

Although his famous pupils are impressive, equally impressive is the sheer number of his students and how loyal they still remain to Rosenberg. “The kind of person he was, as well as the kind of professor he was, in addition to the number of artists not only in Pittsburgh but really all throughout the United States, and their continual loyalty to him made [creating the exhibit] a pretty easy process for me to take up,” Hiller said. “People who studied with Samuel Rosenberg completely understand and are honored by the historical approaches and curatorial projects that people like me have, so all I really had to do was introduce myself and discuss the [exhibit] ... people were so generous because they still have such a love for Rosenberg.”

The exhibit is made up of 76 works of art from over 50 of his students, with only one of Rosenberg’s paintings. “The concept [of the exhibit] is to show his teaching style and what he taught the students who were in his class, so it’s an exhibition that’s a balance of showing him as a teacher, but showing the artwork by the students, both from Carnegie Mellon University as well as [the YM&WHA],” Hiller explained.

Even the sole painting by Rosenberg in the exhibit still focuses on his role as a teacher: The unfinished painting features Rosenberg’s son sitting at a blank easel, depicted from the perspective of looking over his son’s shoulder. Even in his art, Rosenberg was still aware of his role as a teacher, peering over his students’ shoulders to guide their progress.

Despite the range of artistic genres represented in the exhibit, Rosenberg’s influence still shines through every work of art. “I got dozens of comments about how powerful it is for a group of people to have a source of influence that is that strong,” Hiller said. The exhibit serves as a powerful testimonial to Rosenberg’s legacy and to the influence a single teacher can have.