by Len Lear
The term “Renaissance Man” has become a cliché for those who excel at several disciplines, but I cannot think of a more appropriate expression for long-time Chestnut Hill resident Dan Rose, who has published myriad publications, including academic work, poetry and artist books; received national and international acclaim for exhibits of his 3-D whimsical and imaginary worlds as well as his paintings; has redesigned automobiles; participated in rich collaborations with musicians, photographers and actors; and finally just published a book of more than 20 years of his drawings, some of them never published before. The one-pound hardback book (as in mill boards that are normally used in rare book restoration), “Dan Rose Drawings,” literally came off the press last month.
“And Dan is also a nice person and humble,” said Rachel Cheetham-Richard, who along with her husband, Robert, own a software company in center city, Azavea. “Dan and I actively collaborated under the name Steamroller Labs from 2011 to 2017. I used to take photos, and Dan would ‘bend’/fold them so that they would appear as 3D models, which I would later reshoot. The end results would appear distorted and intriguing.”
Rose, 78, was born on a farm in Iowa, where his father had a doctorate degree in theology. Rose came to Philly in 1969 to do pre-doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania, and his doctoral dissertation, “Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia: 1969-1971,” led to a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Rose joined the faculty of the landscape architecture department at the U of P in 1974. During his 24-year tenure there he taught landscape architecture in the School of Design and also in the Department of Anthropology. With his students he explored nature and culture, local land use decision-making and questions of human evolution and the future of humanity.
“I was not a real interesting teacher with a class of 40,” Rose admitted in a shocking example of modesty. (Have you ever heard another teacher say such a thing?) “I was good in seminars of about 12 people, though, but I never got over being nervous speaking in front of large groups of students.”
Rose has created over 100 one-of-a-kind picture books. In 2016, the entire picture book archive was gifted to the Kislak Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania at the completion of his solo show, “Arbitrary Pleasures.”
Well known in the art book world, the self-taught Rose has sold paintings and photos internationally to galleries and book stores. For example, two galleries in London carry his books; Printed Matters, a major book store in Manhattan, carries his books, and they can be found in the Museum of Modern Art Library.
Rose’s art is so whimsical and individualistic that it defies categorization. For example, he has taken a drawing from a medical brochure of a woman who needs a ride home after a colonoscopy and added a tree, the back of the car and a road for no apparent reason other than silliness.
Similarly, he has taken a tiny picture of a woman relaxing in a spa brochure and drawn in a bizarre creature giving the woman a massage. It looks like the last person/thing in the world a woman would want to get a massage from. The juxtaposition of the real and the fantasy definitely provokes a smile.
According to Richard Harrington, acclaimed sculptor whose work is in the permanent collection of the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, “Dan’s drawings mix fact and fantasy, and though intimate in scale, they frequently hint, to me at least, that they would be equally fascinating at a large movie theater scale or as murals. This is an architect’s truism that monumental ideas are frequently best expressed in compact, efficient form. Like the comics, his drawings rely on exaggeration and simplification, like a monster at a spa messaging a contented but unsuspecting customer.”
Rose’s work has been exhibited at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, Lift Cafe, the P1 Gallery and Edward Jones Financial Services office in Chestnut Hill. “I will show my work anywhere,” he said.
Rose has also worked as an auto mechanic in a garage and redesigned automobiles that he would then sell. For example, he bought an Australian Chevrolet and had it shipped from New Zealand to Boston. He paid $24,000 for the car and then spent over 100 hours redesigning it and making it suitable for U.S. highways. He then sold it one week before this interview. “I made no profit from all that work,” he said. “It is just a hobby. I am not a businessman.”
While teaching at Penn in 1983, Rose also began working as a consultant for State Farm Insurance Company. He retired from Penn in 1999 and from State Farm in 2011, and he is now a full-time artist. At State Farm he would consult with senior executives, making suggestions on how to do things differently.
“The executives were all honorable men,” said Rose. “I could not have worked for a better company. I never met a dishonest person working for State Farm.”
Rose and his wife, Martha, have lived in several places, but “I have loved only two, Vermont and Chestnut Hill. I will only leave Chestnut Hill in a pine box. Here I can go to the co-op, art galleries, fine places to eat, great shops, etc. What a great place to live!” (Martha, 65,a landscape artist who has taught art, has a master’s degree from Penn and is active at Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting, where she is a docent for their “Sky Space.” They have two daughters, Meredith, 39, a painter; and Emma, 37, a nurse midwife.)
Dan Rose can be reached at www.danrose.space or firstname.lastname@example.org Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com