Warren and Jane Rohrer: the painted and verbal images of a wellspring of faith and love

The paintings of Warren Rohrer,  1927-1995, American; and the poetry of Jane Rohrer, American born 1928.

 

from an exhibition at the Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia until July 10, 2022.

Hearing the Brush: The Painting and Poetry of Warren and Jane Rohrer

 

Hearing the Brush: The Painting and Poetry of Warren and Jane Rohrer – Woodmere Art Museum

 

 

All the poems shown below are Jane Rohrer’s. A small number of Warren Rohrer’s paintings are also shown.

 

The Woodmere Museum placed Jane Rohrer’s poems (undated) next to paintings of her husband, Warren Rohrer.

 

Thsese poems do not necessarily have a direct relationship with its neighbour painting.

 

But Jane Rohrer’s work is as intimately related to the work of her husband as her life was to his life.

 

 

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Warren and Jane Rohrer were and are the descendants of Mennonites – one of several Anabaptist Protestant sects fleeing Roman Catholic persecution in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries.

 

 

 

Big Breathing Mouth I Love You, 1969, oil on canvas.  

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.   Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

Pennsylvania was the first sanctuary of German-speaking Mennonites who arrived in 1683 on a William Penn promise of 5000 acres; and the freedom of religion. 

 

Many migrated from the Philadelphia area to east-central Pennsylvania: Lancaster County.  Some farther.

 

 

A Mennonite choir from a Lancaster County community singing as part of a proselytization effort in a park in West Philadelphia on June 11, 2022. 

Mennonites, Amish and the Brethren sell the food and flowers they grow at a market here on Saturdays.

 

 

 

To this day, Lancaster County is the agricultural heart of the state with many of its farms in the hands of Mennonites and members of other Protestant sects.

 

 

 

 

Landsccape, 1960’s, oil on board.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.   Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

Warren Rohrer was born into a conservative Mennonite farming family in a small village in  Lancaster County.  

 

Jane Rohrer’s family were Mennonite poultry- and horse-farmers in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. 

 

They met at a Mennonite college in Virginia and married in 1948.

 

 

 

Hornet’s Nest, 1969, oil on linen.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.   Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

While Warren continued his university education to become a minister (Bible and art studies) in Virginia, Jane supported them both. 

 

In the early 1950’s, Warren Rohrer worked as a high school teacher and enrolled in summer school for four summers at Penn State University in State College, central Pennsylvania.

 

It was here that his interest in artistic expression grew and his own experimentation began.

 

Warren Rohrer became intellectually and artistically engaged with the modernist development in art and particularly with the Colour Field artists:

 

Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin  (who disliked the label); Alma Thomas and others.

Their work expanded and subverted Abstract Expressionism. 

 

 

 

Stream to Octorara, date unknown, oil on canvas.  

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.  Private loan to the Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia in 2022

 

 

 

In 1961, the couple moved with their two sons to a 12-acre farm in eastern Lancaster County.  The barn became his studio. She had a large garden. 

 

Warren Rohrer continued his evolution to complete abstraction using exclusively square canvases.

 

In 1984, children grown, the couple moved to Philadelphia and lived in the house – with a studio – in which the artist Violet Oakley had lived with her partner, the first director of the Woodmere Museum. 

 

Warren Rohrer became an influential teacher of art at what is now Philadelphia’s University of the Arts where he worked for 25 years.

 

Throughout his years in Philadelphia, he returned often to Lancaster County to draw and photograph.

 

 

 

 In a gallery at Woodmere Museum of Art

 

 

Jane Rohrer, meanwhile, in supportive dialogue with her husband, was reading contemporary poetry.

 

From the 1970s onwards for almost 30 years her own poetry was published from time to time in The American Poetry Review.

 

She came fully into her own in her work after the death of her husband in 1995.  Two collections of her poetry were published:  in 2002 and – late writing  – 2020.

 

 

 

 

Ripe Landscape, 1970, oil on board.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.   Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

Jane Rohrer’s work – unclouded expression of emotions and observations of the natural world and of people – has as intimate a relationship with her husband’s work as her life with his life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane and Warren Rohrer never let go those values of their conservative Christian socialization which attached them to the soil, to simplicity, to worshipful gratitude, to a disciplined life.

 

Nor did they they lose their attachment to the repetition of the seasons; and to the unfathomable variety of patterns and sounds in nature.

This they were steeped in since infancy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As they had also been steeped in the farming world.

 

And very familiar with the arts and crafts  of Mennonites and Amish (another Anabaptist Protestant sect): the basted straight lines and floral curves of quilts; the stippling on painted wood and ceramics; blankets woven of the cream wool of a mown winter meadow; the evidence in a pattern of the steadiness and sudden waywardness of the human hand.

 

 

 

 

Sky, oil on linen, 1975.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.   Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

It is clear, at the same time, that the bold or subtle, quivering, fleeting or confident layered richness and explicit sensuality of their images – painted and verbal –

 

are also expressions of the stages of the emotional and physical fulfilment of a long marriage;

 

of a liberation into the plenitude of life lived in the flesh, mind, and spirit;

 

by means of their commitment to use artistic modernism – experimented, felt, drawn, painted and written – to work out their salvation together and alone on unexpected roads

 

which had many cross-roads, many shadow lines, many hard fall-off edges, 

 

and many signs with the cautions

 

and, paradoxically, the encouragement of their complex religious and secular inheritances.

 

 

Shadow Line, oil on canvas, 1984.  

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.  Private loan to the Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia in 2022

 

 

 

Warren and Jane Rohrer’s work – on the face of it at significant variance from that of their conservative, cautious, modest, inward-looking, pious, rule-bound Protestant forebears –

 

is the small writ 

 

of the immense accomplishment of these same forebears who worked out and whose descendants continue to work out

 

– the survival and flourishing of religious communities in the United States having been anything but a rose garden for the multigeneration legal effort to define the practical reach of the freedom of religion for a people whose religion governs the totality of life –

 

their own salvation against very great odds under the aegis of the the Declaration of Independence which speaks to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

 

 

 

 

Green Stance, 1984, oil on canvas.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.  Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

Orchard, date unknown, pastel on paper.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.  Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meridien, 1988, oil on linen.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.  Private loan to the Woodmere Museum, Philadelphia in 2022

 

 

 

 

Photo above from the website of the Woodmere Museum of Art

To Dan and Jennie #3, c. 1993, graphite and neocolor on heavy wove paper.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.   Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Untitled (4), 1990-94, chalk and gouache on Rives 100% rag.

Warren Rohrer, 1927-1995, American.   Woodmere Museum of Art, Philadelphia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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