Whimsical work by Chestnut Hill artist Dan Rose on display


"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is a popular adage from William Shakespeare's play, “Romeo and Juliet,” in which Juliet argues that it does not matter that Romeo is part of a rival family. He would have been a terrific fellow – Montague or not.

It could just as easily be argued that Dan Rose's offbeat, often whimsical work would be just as intriguing, whatever the artist’s name. Dozens of Rose’s works, every one a 5-by-7 inch acrylic, are currently on display in an exhibit that opened April 1 at City Arts Salon, 5838 Germantown Ave. in Germantown, and is continuing through April 22.

The theme of the exhibit is the face “that hovers between a human face and a robotic face of the near future.” Owner Kenny White’s gallery is like a living room, where viewers can sit on a couch or comfortable chair and view the art hanging on two facing walls. Jazz plays in the background, or at times even live music accompanies the conversations and art.

The prolific Rose is also the author of academic work, a writer of poetry and creator of artist books. He received national and international acclaim for exhibits of his 3-D amusing and imaginary worlds as well as his paintings. He has redesigned automobiles, participated in collaborations with musicians, photographers and actors and, in 2018, published a hardback book of more than 20 years of his drawings.

Rose, 82, was born on a farm in Iowa, where his father had earned a doctorate degree in theology. Rose came to Philadelphia in 1969 to complete pre-doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania. His doctoral dissertation, “Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia: 1969-1971,” led to a Ph.D in Anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rose joined the faculty of the landscape architecture department at Penn in 1974. During his 24-year tenure, 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, questions of human evolution and the future of humanity.

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,” Rose said. “I could not have worked for a better company.”

Rose actually found a silver lining in the pandemic over the last three years. “The pandemic which kept our family housebound had several consequences,” he said, “one of which was that I did not suffer from seasonal allergies for a couple of years. The other was that I stayed at home and painted nearly every day. Now I have several hundred paintings.”

From October to November of 2020, 130 pieces of Rose's work titled “False Heads, Masks and Robots” were exhibited in a 19th century Merion Station building designed by famed Pennsylvania architect, William Lightfoot Price. Since it was the height of the pandemic, only one person at a time was allowed to see the exhibit. In a nearby room, original music composed by New York musicians Melissa Grey and David Morneau, titled “Symbolic Gesture,” was performed. 

From that exhibit, the 130 pieces of art were published in Rose’s book, “False Heads.” A book and the pictures from the show were donated to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rose and his wife, Martha, have lived in several places, but in an earlier interview he told us, “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, a landscape artist who has taught art, has a master's degree from Penn and is active at Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting. They have two daughters, Meredith, 43, a painter; and Emma, 41, a nurse midwife.)

For more information about the exhibit, email cityartssalon@gmail.com. Dan Rose can be reached at @drdanrose or danrosedr@gmail.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com.