Caroline Melvina Speare Rohland typically depicted narrative scenes, many of which were inspired by her travels. Multidisciplinary in her media, she worked in pastels and oils, drew with charcoal and ink, and made lithographs. She was also a muralist for the New Deal’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, a program of the Works Progress Administration.

Rohland was a native of Chelsea, Massachusetts, across the river from Boston. She studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as well as at the Art Students League under John Sloan and Kenneth Hayes Miller, both figurative artists. In 1912 she participated in the League’s summer program in Woodstock, New York, where Birge Harrison was an instructor. She married Paul Rohland in 1919 and they lived on land on the outskirts of Woodstock she had purchased three years earlier.

From 1928 to 1942 Rohland exhibited regularly with the Whitney Studio Club, which evolved into the Whitney Museum in 1931. During this period, six of her works—pastels and lithographs—were purchased for the museum’s collection. She developed a specialty in Southern imagery based on her travels which included a visit to Beaufort, South Carolina, in 1930. Perhaps because of this interest of hers, she was selected to undertake two post office murals in the deep South. 

Rohland’s 1939 commission for the Bunkie, Louisiana, post office is a scene of eight African American laborers picking cotton, a popular subject for southern murals; nearly one-quarter of the murals done in the South are related in some way to the cotton industry. In the background of her composition is a white overseer astride a horse.

In a similar vein, her 1941 Sylvania, Georgia, mural also represents a racial divide. A white couple and their two children frame an agricultural scene filled with livestock—pigs, cows, and a donkey—while a black figure in a servile position appears to be sharpening a plow. The initial reaction apparently was one of acceptance, but in the 1980s the local chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People took objection and requested that the painting be removed. It languished for many years in a storage closet until it was restored and put on loan to the museum at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

A year later Rohland designed a third mural for a post office in Fulton, New York, in the northern part of the state. The subject was a historical narrative which related to local events: Father LeMoyne Trying to Convert the Indians on Pathfinder Island. A frieze of ten Native figures flank a cleric in the center who is thrusting a cross in their direction. The painting remains in situ.

Shortly afterward, in 1943, the Rohlands left the Northeast and moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to better accommodate Paul’s asthma. Subsequently, they settled in Sierra Madre, California, but after Paul’s death Caroline returned to Woodstock, later taking up photography.