by Carole Verona
Stay away from sugar, salt and fat. Do some physical exercise every day. Get involved in something you are passionate about.
These are the secrets to living a healthy life, according to Rose Schmukler, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, who will be 100 on Sept. 26 of this year. She learned them from listening to a series of radio shows by a health food and weight loss pioneer named Dr. Victor Lindlahr way back in the 1930s.
Rose’s passion for watercolor painting, something she took up at the tender young age of 77, is evident as you walk through her first-ever exhibit at the Center on the Hill at The First Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, 8855 Germantown Ave. The exhibit runs until the end of June. The idea for the exhibit came about when Margot Cohn, a musician and director of the PRE-K program at the church, played in a string quartet with Anita Schmukler, Rose’s daughter, who is also a psychoanalyst. The playing took place at Anita’s home, where Margot saw Rose’s artwork. She immediately started making arrangements to have it exhibited in the church’s gallery space.
The opening of Rose’s art exhibit on May 31 was a benefit for the Independence Sinfonia, a local community orchestra. Ms. Schmuckler’s daughter is a violinist in the orchestra, as is Margot Cohn.
Rose grew up in South Philadelphia, where her father was a carpenter and her mother a dressmaker. She wanted to be a teacher, but after graduating from South Philadelphia High School in 1931, had to go to work in a factory. “Things were a little bit hard back then,” she said. “It’s not like you could plan.” Later, she worked with her husband in a retail business.
Several profound interests have remained with her since her high school days. She fought vigorously for social justice issues, including voting rights, social equality and labor rights. She was also involved in drama with the Neighborhood Players for some years and later studied and taught Hebrew at Gratz College.
Married for 55 years, Rose and her husband Martin had three children. He died in 1992, on their 55th wedding anniversary. At that time, Rose’s daughter, Anita Schmukler, who is a psychoanalyst and musician, strongly encouraged Rose to take a course in watercolor painting at the community center.
Rose said that both of her brothers and her sister demonstrated artistic abilities from the time they were young but that she was more interested in theater and dance. “My older brother was an artist, and I used to watch him paint. When he passed away, his wife said I could take anything of his that I wanted, so I gathered together all of his painting supplies.”
Rose also had a paint box with seven watercolors in it, something she kept from her childhood. Much later, when she was riding through Merion with her daughter one day, she saw a sign advertising a box of paints and erasers on sale for $5. “That was the defining moment because I had everything I needed to do something,” she said.
Rose also had a lot of her brother’s art books and would often go to the library to read about artists and look at pictures of the paintings that would eventually inspire her. Rose has difficulty trying to define her style of painting. One observer at the Center on the Hill described it as “a quirky style, more impressionist than Grandma Moses.” At first, she would copy what she saw in a famous artist’s work. Then she began painting scenes from nature. “Everything in nature inspires me — the flowers, the trees, the birds. I see beauty in all of it,” she said.
Her daughter explained that Rose’s impulse to put her own feelings and imagination into her work has markedly increased over time. For example, in the painting “Grandfather,” she tried to replicate her son’s beard. And in the painting of a boy wearing blue, she set out to capture the mischievous expression she saw on her nephew’s face many decades earlier. In both paintings, even though she may have copied something, she was capturing and including something from her own life, transforming the painting into something personal. “Her vision is to capture in her work that with which she feels emotionally connected,” her daughter said. “That was not the case when she first began to experiment.”
Every day, Rose takes a bus from her apartment in Cherry Hill, NJ, to the nearby Katz Jewish Community Center where she studies painting, Yiddish, current events and opera, writes a column for the newsletter and does whatever else interests her.
She is the oldest in her class of a dozen or so students. “Sometimes I get there a little later than the others, but they always save me a seat. No doubt, they make a fuss over me.”
For more information about the exhibit of Rose’s paintings, call 215-247-8855.