Fine Times At Our House: Drawings and Photographs by Art & Margo Newmark Rosenbaum

Coulter Fussell, Yalo Studio and Gallery, February 12, 2013
“I have a sort of inner conviction that for all the possible limitations of my mind and the disturbing effects of my processes, for all the contradicting struggles and failures I have gone through, I have come to something that is in the image of America and the American people of my time.”  
— Thomas Hart Benton

“I can mock all the animals of the barnyard and the forest.” 
— Howard Finster

“Mabel Cawthorn”, Art Rosenbaum, 1989 charcoal, 22 x 30
Art Rosenbaumesteemed artistmuralist, retired University of Georgia painting professor, and Grammy winning folk music documentarian has been described as a ‘national treasure’ more than a few times. Almost always, the events that lead to a person receiving great distinction begin with the small and weightless moments. Advice remembered, a circumstance turned, something discovered, a lucky break. One can’t help but think that, in this case, that moment happened when the judge of the painting contest at the Indiana State Fair handed over to a 15-year-old Art Rosenbaum his cash winnings. The child bought a banjo.
Although born in Odgensburg, NY, in 1938, Art Rosenbaum grew up very much a Midwesterner in Indianapolis, IN. He went on to attend Columbia University where he studied painting. It was during this time that Art made his first field recordings while working as a summer dishwasher at a Lake Michigan resort. Using a reel-to-reel he borrowed from his boss, Art recorded the music of a group of Mexican migrant workers from a close-by blueberry farm. The song was “Carabina Treinta-Treinta,” an impassioned ode to Pancho Villa’s rifle. It is also here, during his off hours from washing dishes, that Art would bring his tape recorder to a group of Southern migrant pickers living in a small camp. One of the people he met was a young boy named Ray Rhodes. Little Ray Rhodes sang a song called “Fred Adams“, an otherwise undocumented murder ballad about the last official public hanging in the state of Missouri. 
Untitled, Art Rosenbaum
“He walked down on the sky stand with a cigarette in his hand,” sang 7 year-old Ray Rhodes,”The trigger sprung at 8 p.m. He took it just like a man.”
The New Yorker aptly describes Art as  “a folk revivalist of the old school.” Art, they note, “believed that traditional ballads, blues, spirituals, and fiddle tunes are among the glories of American culture, and he wanted to help preserve and disseminate them.”  
“Doc and Lucy Barnes”, Art Rosenbaum, 1977 charcoal, 22 x 30
But perhaps what distinguishes Art Rosenbaum from many other documentarians who sprang from the folk revival is that the diversity found in his body of recordings is much more indicative of the vastness and breadth of the America cultural patchwork. While many of these revivalists dedicated their time to locating long forgotten bluesmen from the prewar recording era, Art did that too, and much, much more.

In addition to rediscovering one of the prewar blues era’s most influential innovators, Art has recorded New England fiddlers,old time strings bands,Civil War balladsAfrican American sea chanteys, spiritual, ring shouts, and emancipation songs from the Georgia coastMidwestern fiddlers and balladeersunaccompanied Appalachian balladryGerman-American party-play songs,Cajun bands from southwest LouisianaSacred Steel music from Floridalove songs of the Scottish tinkers, and a whole lot more. The collection is downright astounding. But what is most remarkable is Art’s insistence that there is still lots of great material out there despite the onslaught of all pervasive mass mediation. Art is very optimistic in a way that others aren’t, and because of that he has managed to turn up some incredible material.  
But Art didn’t do all this alone. He met Margo Newmark when she was a photographer in New York working as receptionist at the Museum of Primitive Art. Having grown up in L.A., Margo married Art in New York City and they lived together there as a young, artist couple during, arguably, one of the city’s most exciting times; the early 1960s. They ran in social circles with Bob Dylan ( who was always insistent that Art tell him everything he could about his work with Scrapper Blackwell), Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, Willem de Kooning, and Philip Guston. 
A Towns County Georgia String Band: Vaughn Eller, Lawrence Eller, Ross Brown.
1979 Photo: Margo Newmark Rosenbaum
Neal Pattman and Precious Bryant, photo: Margo Newmark Rosenbaum

Margo is an accomplished documentary photographer and musician in her own right, having been described as “a sure enough banjo picker” by Howard FinsterSince they met 50 years ago, Margo has accompanied Art all over America to photograph the musicians and artists of his field recordings. But Margo was initially trained as a painter and in an interview with the Athens Banner Herald, Margo speaks of her initial introduction to photography: “I could use photographs as information for painting and drawing. But I got sidetracked with it. I consider it painting with light.” And after a moment adds in her notorious matter-of-fact way, “Art’s so much a painter, I didn’t want to get into any kind of competition.”

Margo’s work has qualities that are touching and empathetic. These facets are so often absent in documentary photography. Her training as a painter is apparent as her fine silver gelatin prints are luminous, composed, and layered. 

Howard Finster and Kids on Trampoline,  photo: Margo Newmark Rosenbaum

The Rosenbaums’ presence is never far from what they document. Whether it be an unadorned minute-long recording of a working child singing in the middle of a blueberry field or a building high mural depicting initial Spanish contact with some of our continent’s native people, Art is there. And, beside him, Margo takes pictures; photographs that hold a deep, guttural and purely American nostalgia. They keep still those small and weightless moments. The advice given, the phrase sung again, something discovered. The child and his new banjo.
Please join us Friday, March 1st from 6 – 8:30 pm for the opening of Fine Times at Our House: Drawings and Photographs by Art & Margo Newmark Rosenbaum. 
AND THEN! In collaboration with the End Of All Music Record Store there will be a performance by Art Rosenbaum during the End of All Music’s One-year Anniversary Party at Lamar Lounge(1309 N. Lamar Blvd. Oxford, MS)

We will also have a viewing of Neil Rosenbaum’s film “Sing My Troubles By” on Saturday March 2nd at 2pm at The Oxford Public Library.

Read article on Yalo Studio and Gallery’s Website