Susan M. Rose connects art and conservation

Susan M. Rose connects art and conservation

PRESERVED! Artist Interview Series

Susan M. Rose remembers vividly the first time she witnessed an artist painting “en plein air.” She was on one of many summer camping trips with her family. Already having developed a passion for art at her young age, she saw a poster inviting spectators to view the artist in the visitor center at Grand Teton National Park. She begged her parents and siblings to go, and to her luck, they agreed.

Susan M. Rose

“I will never forget an artist painting outdoors what he was seeing right in front of him,” Rose said. “At that age, I hadn’t really realized you could do that.”

Rose spent summers in her youth traveling around the United States in a camper. Her parents were teachers, and for around six weeks every summer, they would explore and camp in the country’s scenic national parks. These trips instilled in Rose a love for nature.

“My love affair with being outside and with nature stems back to early family travels,” Rose said. “That connection has always been there with me—it’s important for me to have that ability to immerse myself in the natural world.”

Around the same time she was developing her appreciation for nature, she had decided what she wanted to be when she grew up. 

“Believe it or not, at 5 years old I knew I wanted to be an artist and a teacher,” Rose said.

An artist and a teacher is what she became. Rose received a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Painting and a Masters of Arts in Education from Michigan State University. She taught art to K-12 students for 30 years in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

Rose predominantly paints landscapes. She prefers to paint amidst her subject, where she can experience a scene’s vibrations first hand and commit them to paint then and there. Rose’s landscapes vary in degrees of abstraction, but tend more towards impressionistic realism than pure representation.

“When I’m starting any painting, it’s a process of abstracting the scene I’m looking at,” Rose said. “I’m looking for rhythm and patterns in nature that are beautiful to me—what rhythm or pattern will carry a viewer through a painting.”

Her paintings are modes of communicating the experience of being in a natural place—whether that be among West Michigan’s lakeshore dunes or the Teton Mountain range of Wyoming.

“Instead of writing a poem or a song or a novel or a story or a dance, I’m communicating through the visual languages of light and color and texture and space and shapes and forms,” Rose said.

Rose brought the idea for the Preserved! program to the Land Conservancy. Now in its third edition, the program has grown into a dynamic way to showcase the conservancy’s natural spaces and draw attention to the importance of protecting them.

“My hope is that perhaps when people go to this exhibit who have never thought of engaging with the Land Conservancy might feel the need to do so after seeing the work of the artists there,” Rose said. “It’s really important to me to raise the awareness of the importance of preserving these open spaces.”

In discussing her hope that viewers of her work are moved to action, Rose was reminded of artist Thomas Moran, whose vivid paintings of the United States’ Western landscape helped convince government officials to create our country’s first national park—Yellowstone National Park.

“Here’s a bunch of guys, as you can imagine, sitting in their government official roles, most of whom have never ventured outside of their homeland or much past,” Rose said. “(Moran’s) artwork literally convinced them to create the national park. They said, ‘We have got to set aside this land and preserve it.’

“When someone looks at my work, I want them to say ‘Wow, maybe I never looked at the landscape this way.’ That may compel them to act, and that action is what is important.”

You can see and purchase Susan M. Rose’s pieces inspired by Land Conservancy projects this fall at the Preserved! gallery receptions and exhibits. Learn more here.

Marie Orttenburger
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