MILWAUKEE – In his obituary published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last February, Adolph Rosenblatt’s daughter Sarah remembered the times her father brought her and her siblings to Brewers games.
But Adolph’s focus wasn’t on baseball. Instead, Sarah remembered that he would bring clay with him to the games so that he could sculpt the people in the stands. On one of these trips, she recalled that her father was so concentrated on his sculpting work during the game that he didn’t even notice his pants had slipped down, revealing a plumber’s crack to others nearby.
“He was too busy to pull up his pants,” she said.
Rosenblatt’s dedication to creating and his light-hearted sense of humor were what his wife and children loved about him, according to Rosenblatt’s obituary. These characteristics of his personality are visible in many of his works.
Beginning June 16, Jewish Museum Milwaukee has been celebrating Rosenblatt’s artistic legacy and life with the “Moments & Markers: An Adolph Rosenblatt Retrospective” exhibit. “Moments & Markers” includes a variety of Rosenblatt’s work in different mediums, such as paintings, drawings, bronze cast works, ceramic figures, sculptures and larger installations.
Rosenblatt, who died at 83 on Feb. 16, studied art on the east coast, but lived most of his life in Milwaukee. He received his BFA from Yale in 1956 and moved to the Milwaukee area in 1966 where he taught in the art department at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee until 1999, later becoming a professor emeritus there.
Revealing his passionate and fun-loving nature, Rosenblatt focused his artistic attentions on recording those scenarios that were readily available to him – Milwaukee and the everyday activities of those living there.
“For that’s what Adolph has been doing over the past thirty years, documenting life as it’s lived in Milwaukee, in restaurants, movie houses, alleyways, gas stations,” Rosenblatt’s wife Suzanne wrote in an essay about her husband’s work. “Trees are chopped down, buildings razed or renovated, people die, children grow up, but here they still are, almost alive before our eyes.”
One of the most well-known examples of his interest in the mundane lives of Milwaukee residents is Rosenblatt’s “Oriental Pharmacy Lunch Counter,” completed in 1987. In this large sculpted piece, Rosenblatt depicts 50 figures as they sat down for lunch in the Oriental Pharmacy, a once popular location on Milwaukee’s East Side where individuals from different backgrounds came to eat and shop.
Though the pharmacy closed in 1995, Rosenblatt’s sculptures of those who frequented the lunch counter there appear as they would have when its doors were still open.
“I tried to do every person I got emanations from,” Rosenblatt said when describing this piece to Milwaukee Sentinel art critic James Auer in 1987.
In another prominent piece titled “My Balcony,” he portrays expectant movie-goers as they wait for a film to start. According to his wife, Rosenblatt loved going to the movies and initially began by sculpting his two cousins who had been visiting from Israel.
But the piece soon blossomed to include 80 figures. “He asked people to pose with a spouse or child or lover so he could get their relationship to each other. And he went out of his way to find a few people willing to pose in a two or three hour kiss,” Suzanne described.
While these larger sculpted pieces are on display at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, visitors can also see his earlier works, including paintings and bronze cast works.
Together, these pieces reveal Rosenblatt’s progression from two-dimensional paintings with a palette knife to his larger, colorful clay sculptures.
How to go
The “Moments & Markers: An Adolph Rosenblatt Retrospective” exhibit will be open until Aug. 27 at Jewish Museum Milwaukee, a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, at 1360 N. Prospect Ave. Museum hours: Monday to Thursday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (open until 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month); Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. 414-390-5730. JewishMuseumMilwaukee.org. Museum admission: Adults $7; seniors $6; students $4; children age 6 and under are free; active duty military are free.