Ruth Starr Rose

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Ruth Starr Rose
Ruth Starr

EducationVassar College
Art Students League of New York
Known forPainting
MovementAmerican Scene
AwardsMary Hills Goodwin Prize

Ruth Starr Rose (1887–1965) was an American artist, lithographer and serigrapher best known for her paintings of African American life in Maryland in the 1930s and 1940s.[1][2] This important woman artist's work is now touring throughout Maryland, the United States, and Europe as a unique example of an early American Shared Community expressed through pigment and paint. Additionally, Rose is credited as the first white artist to create a work of art for a black church. The subject of her fresco, Pharaoh's Army Got Drownded, was to honor the minister's son who perished in training for WWII.

Early life and education[edit]

Rose was born in 1887 into an affluent family in Wisconsin. They moved to Maryland's Eastern Shore after the turn of the century. In Maryland she and her mother attended the DeShields United Methodist Church. Rose was an art activist, and it was her familiarity with town residents that allowed her a glimpse into the African American experience.[3][4]

She left Hope House (Easton, Maryland), the family property, to study, as her mother had, at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.. After graduation from Vassar, she enrolled in the Art Students League of New York where she worked with artist and printmaker Victoria Hutson Huntley, Mabel Dwight, Harry Sternberg, and George C. Miller. Harlem Renaissance artist Prentiss Taylor and Weyhe Gallery's Carl Zigrosser, founder of the Prints Department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art were her lifelong friends and mentors.

Career and works[edit]

Rose focused her paintings on African American life on the Maryland shore. Rose and her family had long supported civil rights for African American people and they were well connected with black artists and performers, including Paul Robeson, Lead Belly, and Roland Hayes. Rose's subjects included local descendants of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ross Tubman, a professional sail maker, female crab pickers, and heroic WWII veterans. She portrayed her friends with "dignity and compassion" which was rare in portrayals of people of color during that era.[5]

In 1937, when she was living in Caldwell, N.J., she was awarded the Mary Hills Goodwin Prize at the exhibition of the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors in New York City for her painting "The Twilight Quartet," a portrait of four African American musicians from the historic settlement of Copperville, Maryland.[6] In 1957 she was awarded a prize in the graphics category at the exhibition of the National Association of Women Artists.[7]

Rose had a deep regard for African American spirituals. As early as 1956, she was credited by Howard University's Professor James A. Porter, the father of African American art history, for her representation of African American spirituals which he commended her for as being the most compassionate and complete to date. Her ear was moved by their dissonant beauty, and she created illustrations of the songs reflecting how members of her congregation felt as they sang the melodies. Alain LeRoy Locke selected two of her African American spirituals for his pioneering work, The Negro in Art in 1940.[8] Her biographers, Barbara Paca and Nina Khrushcheva, have connected her writing and depiction of African American spirituals to the earliest foundation of African American religion in the United States.

Ruth Starr Rose's works have been exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, and throughout Europe.


In 1914, Rose married William Searls Rose.[9] They lived near New York City and adopted two children. They spent summers at Hope House and Pickbourne, the farm next door, which had been given to Rose as a wedding gift.[10][11]


  1. ^ Ruth Starr Rose Smithsonian American Art Museum, accessed April 8, 2016
  2. ^ Before 'Black Lives Matter,' there was Ruth Starr Rose The Washington Post, October 6, 2015
  3. ^ Lewis Museum presents Ruth Starr Rose's prints and paintings of her African-American Eastern Shore neighbors Baltimore Sun Times, January 6, 2016
  4. ^ Ruth Starr Rose: Illuminating African American Life in 1930-'40s Maryland Vassar Quarterly, Winter 2016, Volume 112, Issue 1
  5. ^ Barbara Paca, Ruth Starr Rose (1887-1965): Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World, 2015
  6. ^ 13 Prizes Awarded at Women's Art Show The New York Times, January 26, 1937
  7. ^ Art: A Game of Styles: Offerings from Abstract to Realist Are Displayed in National Women's Show The New York Times, May 9, 2957
  8. ^ Ruth Starr Rose (1896-1965): Revelations of African American Life in Maryland and the World by Barbara Paca and Nina Khrushcheva; 1st edition (October 1, 2015), intro, ISBN 978-0996687904
  9. ^ "Eau Claire Girl Married in East". Eau Claire Leader. June 23, 1914. p. 5. Retrieved July 1, 2016 – via open access
  10. ^ Ruth Starr Rose is dead: Artist and lithographer The New York Times, October 26, 1965
  11. ^ Her Own Brush Baltimore Magazine, November 2015