Previous versions of this article gave an incorrect job title for Terrie Sultan. This version has been corrected.
A LOCAL LIFE: SETH ROSENBERG, 57
Painter Put Other D.C.-Based Artists in the Spotlight
Sunday, September 13, 2009
One morning a dozen years ago, Seth Rosenberg opened up his Georgetown frame shop and gallery and happened to notice a mysterious vine growing in a planter box near the front door -- growing almost before his eyes. He began watering the plant every day, and after two months, it was 24 feet long and still growing.
A neighbor named it "Audrey," after the voracious plant in the movie-musical "Little Shop of Horrors."
For several weeks, Mr. Rosenberg, along with his wife and their friends and neighbors, continued to nurture Audrey as she sprouted velvet leaves, tiny buds and peach-colored flowers. Her well-being became a labor of love, even though they had no idea what she was or where she had come from.
Anna Rock, 4 at the time, was in awe. "I saw it in 'Jack in the Beanstalk, " she announced. "It's going to go past the clouds."
A few days ago, Anna, now 16, sang the Shaker hymn " 'Tis a Gift to be Simple" at the funeral of Mr. Rosenberg, who died Sept. 1 in Cleveland after a heart attack.
For Mr. Rosenberg, lavishing care and attention on a wayward plant was entirely in character. He looked out for others -- family members; friends, neighbors and fellow artists; a strange plant named Audrey -- even when it meant neglecting his own work as an artist.
"He was the most generous person I've ever known, especially to his fellow artists," his wife, Jane Cahoon Rosenberg, recalled one morning last week.
At age 57, he was just coming into his own as a painter. "His work was just exploding," said Terrie Sultan, former curator of contemporary art at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Mr. Rosenberg was born in Stamford, Conn. After receiving a bachelor's degree from Kent State University in 1975 and a master's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1979, both in fine arts, he settled in the District. To support his art, he opened a frame shop specializing in fine art and historical documents in a warehouse at 14th and U streets Northwest, in the days before gentrification. In 1997, he and his wife opened District Fine Arts, a contemporary art gallery and framing ship in upper Georgetown.
"He was determined to support D.C.-based artists," District arts consultant Suzanne Callahan recalled last week. "He talked to buyers, arranged shows, threw parties, got everybody together. He was adamant about not showing his own work. He'd say, 'This is not a vanity gallery.' "
His selflessness became legendary -- "much to my frustration at times," his wife said.
"Rather than focus on himself as an artist, he loved to talk about the artistic process and what people could create," Callahan said. "It wasn't, 'Here's what I did,' but rather, 'Look at what art can do.' "