A South Carolinian by birth, Arthur Rose spent his entire career as an artist and educator in his native state, where he worked to overcome barriers confronting African American artists. Born in Charleston in 1921, Rose was one of eight siblings to attend local public schools and the only sibling to pursue higher education. Following a brief stint in the Navy during World War II, Rose graduated from high school and enrolled in Claflin University in Orangeburg, South Carolina in 1946. After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1950, Rose temporarily relocated to New York, where he pursued advanced studies under the guidance of Hale Woodruff, among other notable faculty, at New York University.
During his two-year New York sojourn, Rose’s Southern home was never far from his mind. Indeed, Charleston was a significant source of inspiration. Rose described the rolling sea and fluttering breezes of the Carolina Lowcountry—those natural elements constantly in motion—as influential to the development of his organic creative process, in which the final composition asserts itself, rather than having been preconceived. Known for his expressionistic sculptures, Rose nonetheless insisted that he was a painter first. His naïve figural and genre scenes are populated with subjects inspired by African folklore—from lithe gazelles to praying parsons and harlequin poets. Critics and scholars have described Rose’s graceful, sometimes humorous, forms as owning a light-hearted vitality indicative of the artist’s own carefree nature.
Upon completing his graduate degree in 1952, Rose returned to Orangeburg to begin a thirty-one year tenure at Claflin University. There, he served as chair of the art department and, following an eight-year leave of absence during which he was artist in residence at Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina, returned to Claflin as an associate professor of art. At Claflin University—the only college in the South where African Americans could earn a bachelor’s degree in art at mid-century—Rose went to great lengths to exhibit his students’ work. Because segregation limited their access to commercial galleries, Rose initiated an annual “Fence Exhibit,” in which students publically displayed their art along the front fence of Claflin. Though he retired from teaching in 1991, his enthusiastic efforts to create opportunities for his students, are not forgotten. In fact, many successful African American artists of the state, such as Leo Twiggs, continue to refer to Rose as “the Dean of Black Arts in South Carolina.”
In 2005, ten years after the artist’s death, Claflin University renamed their newly renovated gallery space for faculty and student exhibitions the Arthur Rose Museum. The following quote appeared in the program for the museum’s dedication: “Mr. Rose created an atmosphere in his studio/classroom that reminded one of the movement of the winds and waves that he experienced as a child in Charleston: the reassuring notion that natural activity was always occurring.”