Take a peek inside a woman’s purse, look at the style of the pocketbook she carries, and you discover something about her.
“Women’s handbags say a lot about themselves. They are symbolic of what women might have in their lives,” says Robin Rosenthal of Niskayuna.
Rosenthal is not a sociologist. And she’s not really into fashion.
She’s an artist and her oil painting of purses, “The Things We Carry,” grabbed first prize last year at the Stockade Villagers’ Outdoor Art Show.
It’s a montage of eight very different purses, from a bright yellow shoulder bag to a chic black handbag with a silver clasp. In the center of those images, there’s a still life of a medicine bottle, lottery ticket, keys and other objects that you might find inside a woman’s purse.
Rosenthal got the idea after reading “The Things We Carried” by Tim O’Brien, a book about what soldiers carried in their backpacks during the Vietnam War.
“I took a woman’s point of view. I was interested in what women carry in their pocketbooks. The contents talk about their busy lives.”
61st Annual Stockade Villagers’ Outdoor Art Show
WHERE: Stockade District, Schenectady
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday (Rain date is 12 to 4 p.m. Sunday)
HOW MUCH: Free
Stepping up creativity
Rosenthal’s life has been busy, too. For 26 years, she worked all over the Capital Region as an occupational therapist, helping adults and children. She and her husband of 31 years, Kimmo, a Union College math professor, raised two sons, James and Gregory.
“I’ve always loved to do art. But it wasn’t until I retired that I started painting,” she says.
Her first teacher was painter Trudi Smith at Saratoga Arts in 2004, and the next year, she did Summer Six with artist John Hampshire. Then there was another workshop, with Karen O’Neil at Woodstock School of Art.
In 2005, Rosenthal was one of five artists who set up their easels in downtown Schenectady as Jay Street Studios in the Center City Sportsplex. When plans for Center City changed and the artists had to move out, Rosenthal found space at the Beekman Street Artists’ Cooperative in Saratoga Springs.
Now, because of an old, ailing toy poodle named Alex, her small, tidy studio is in her home in a former second-floor guest room.
Near her easel, there’s a table with cloth backdrops, where objects can be arranged for still life. On this particular day, two dark red pears stand at attention, awaiting her brush.
Colorful dishes and glassware, also for still life, are neatly stacked on a shelf, and there’s a couch for 17-year-old Alex, who is deaf and blind and suffers from seizures and congestive heart failure.
“Alex keeps me company. He sleeps on the couch while I paint. He needs me and I need him. He keeps me painting every day,” she says.
On the wall, more than two dozen small paintings of fruits, vegetables, cakes and cookies are lined up in rows, fresh and vibrant, as if they jumped into her house from a farmers’ market.
“They are daily paintings,” says Rosenthal, a small, dark-haired woman clad in jeans.
She started a regular routine of painting on the 6-by-6 inch panels after a workshop with Carol Marine, a Hudson Valley artist who advocates the creation of one painting a day to keep the juices flowing.
“I made up my mind that if I wanted to get better, I had to paint almost every day,” says Rosenthal. “My goal was to do 100 paintings, and if I did, I would start a blog.”
In April 2011, she reached her goal and started her online journal about the little paintings.
“I’ve done another 150 since then,” she says.
Rosenthal is also an enthusiastic member of www.dailypaintworks, which ties her to more than 1,000 other painters.
Flipping open her laptop, she clicks onto a virtual gallery and her paintings pop up and fill the screen.
“It’s great. You have the opportunity to post your work with other painters from all over.”
Rosenthal’s other antidote to “artist isolation” is the Upstate Artists Monthly Painting Challenge, a small group of artists who meet monthly at The Fortunate Cup, a cafe in Saratoga Springs.
Every month, there’s a painting theme (September is kitchen); and they bring their work to show each other, post on their website and exhibit at the cafe.
“It’s fun. It’s nice to be connected,” she says.
Rosenthal also belongs to the Schenectady Art Society, which exhibits at Schenectady County Community College and on Art Night in Robb Alley at Proctors.
If the shoe fits . . .
This Saturday will be Rosenthal’s seventh appearance at the Stockade art show, where she won the Honorable Mention Award three times before taking third prize in 2010 with “Shoe Fetish,” a painting that depicts a row of women’s pumps and heels perched on shoeboxes.
Another shoe painting happened at Beekman Street, when the artists decided to do each other’s portraits.
“I don’t do faces, so I did their shoes. These are shoe portraits,” she says, pointing to high heels, Birkenstocks and moccasins.
“These are Amejo’s [artist Amejo Amyot] Crocs,” she says of the image of comfy pink clogs.
“I am here, in the center. Little black princess heel shoes. I think my mother gave them to me.”
As with the pocketbooks, Rosenthal has no special interest in shoes or shoe fashion.
But shopping does provide both inspiration and interesting objects.
“Some I got at the thrift. Some I bought at Macy’s. Some at Target.”
When her husband goes food shopping, she asks him to pick up fruits and vegetables with “flat bottoms,” so they can stand while she paints them, and often she’ll request a certain color of produce.
“People respond to bright colors; they make them feel good,” she says.
“I’m not an edgy person. I have a bright outlook.”
In art history, her inspiration comes from 19th century European and mid-20th century American art, and artists Wayne Thiebaud, Janet Fish and Fairfield Porter.
“When I paint, all of life’s daily activities disappear and only the color of my paint and my brushstrokes remain,” she says.
Hats as focal point
One of her current projects is painting images of women’s hats, and she’ll be bringing those to the Stockade show.
Before she picked up her brush, she hunted for some vintage hats at a shop in Ballston Spa and read a poem about women’s hats.
Rosenthal, who likes to wear a baseball cap when she’s outside, thought about the women who once wore elegant hats and what it might feel like.
“I don’t wear fancy hats, but it always intrigued me,” she says.
“Sassy hats, bold hats. Why do women wear these hats?”