Arthur Rose spent his entire career as an artist and educator in his home state of South Carolina, 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 at Claflin College 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. He 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. Scholars have described Rose’s graceful, sometimes humorous, forms as owning a light-hearted vitality similar to the artist’s own carefree nature.

After completing his graduate degree in 1952, Rose returned to Orangeburg to begin a thirty-one year tenure at Claflin University, interrupted only briefly by an eight-year visiting residency at Voorhees College in nearby Denmark. At mid-century, Claflin was the only institution in South Carolina where African Americans could earn a bachelor’s degree in art. For many of his students, Rose was the first black artist they encountered and the first to introduce them to the achievements of other black artists. Over the years, he went to great lengths to exhibit his students’ work. Since segregation limited their access to commercial galleries, he initiated an annual “Fence Exhibit,” in which students publicly displayed their art along the front fence of Claflin. Former students fondly remember their teacher's admonitions to expand their aesthetic and technical capacity: “Never let hard work or criticism impair your progress.” Though he retired from teaching in 1991, many professional African American artists, 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.”