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Art for Art's Sake
Since retirement, Jay Rosenthal has centered his life around one passion: promoting the arts and artists in the Wilmington area. He's even designed a web site for artists.
© 2000 by Sheri Rehwoldt
(Copied from Out & About Magazine, Vol. 13, No. 8, October 2000)

Wilmington resident Jay Rosenthal, art lover and self-proclaimed Renaissance man ("master of none, dabbler of much"), has been building connections within the Wilmington art community for more than two decades.

During his 24 years with the DuPont Company, Rosenthal served on the boards of numerous local arts organizations, including the Delaware Art Museum, the Grand Opera House, the Wilmington Music School and the Delaware Theatre Company. He also served two terms with the State Arts Council, appointed by Governors Mike Castle and Tom Carper.

Retirement in 1991 didn't slow the pace of his involvement - he's currently the president of the City Theater Company board, a member of the Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts board and a docent (tour guide) with the Delaware Art Museum. Instead, the time free from "working" has added fuel to his passion to promote the arts and the artists in the Wilmington community.

"Wilmington's not New York City or D.C.," says Rosenthal, "but for a town of our size, we have quite a few artists here."

Rosenthal, 57, could be the poster child for aging hippies. His shoulder-length gray curls complement his preferred attire of T-shirts, phyllo beads, baggy shorts and Teva sandals. His easy smile is balanced by the boyish energy of his personality.

Ask him to talk about his latest project, the Jay Rosenthal ArtWeb (found at www.rosenthalgroup.net/artweb), and the experience is similar to watching a hot-wired robot gesture wildly amid smoke billowing from overheated circuits. The site is his artistic baby - and the perfect venue for combining his fascination with the Internet and his desire to foster opportunities for area artists.

"You need three things to do something right: time, willingness and ability," says Rosenthal. "I want to help the artists market themselves so they can spend their time creating their art. This site is to showcase their work and to tell potential buyers how to get in touch with them."

The site is a "here is" not a "how to." Rosenthal is not interested in collecting commissions, nor is he interested in telling people what art they should buy. He simply wants to ensure that area artists interested in a Web presence have the opportunity to get on board.

Rosenthal was inspired to create the site after designing a business site for his wife, Maxine, who has been earning a reputation as a jewelry designer since her own retirement from DuPont. Rosenthal saw that Web presence provided her with a way to easily showcase her work and list her exhibition schedule, and realize he could create a collective site to help other artists as well.

"ArtWeb has enabled me to show my work almost anywhere without having to put my inventory at risk," says Maxine.

Although The Jay Rosenthal ArtWeb is still in its infancy, the site has grown steadily by word of mouth. Nine artists are currently on-line. Rosenthal works with each one to ensure their pages reflect their individual personalities and unique artistic styles. The site features samples of each artist's work. It also includes any additional information the artist decides to add - a personal statement, biographical information, exhibition schedules and contact information, for instance.

Cleveland Morris, former artistic director of the Delaware Theatre Company, is one of the artists showcased on the site. Morris, 53, has been painting still lifes privately for 20 years and is a bit surprised to now find himself in the role of commercially viable artist. He admits to being somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that anyone would actually want to purchase his work just by viewing it on a computer screen. He also feels a bit distrustful.

"Unless the scale and color resolution are perfect, you're not really seeing the art," he says.

But Morris also acknowledges the site's potential for establishing his reputation as a painter and giving the viewer a glimpse into his world. "It's like a show window in an arts department store," he says.

His on-line artist statement reveals the motivation behind his painting: "I paint because I love to paint. I love to paint because I love to look. I love to look because that's one way of telling that we're alive."

Fred Carspecken represents Morris in the Wilmington area at the Carspecken-Scott Gallery on N. Lincoln Street. He agrees that Rosenthal's Web site is very educational and may motivate potential buyers to go look at the art first-hand.

"I wouldn't buy (an original) picture on a Web site," Carspecken says. "But you can certainly use it to narrow things down."

And he hopes potential buyers don't feel intimidated about visiting an art gallery. "The galleries here (in Wilmington) are pretty friendly," he says. "It's just art! It's just art! - someone's handicraft."

His advice to those buyers is simple and painless: "Buy it because you love it." As opposed to buying art as an investment.

Rosenthal agrees that art purchases are subjective. He maintains that until retiring in 1991, he didn't have much time to learn about art. Yet over the past 25 years, he and Maxine have managed to cover most of the surface areas of their Alapocas home with paintings, sculpture, pottery and textiles by artists they have admired.

The work of Pennsylvania artist Mitch Lyons is part of the Rosenthal collection. It's not surprising, then, that Lyons is another of the featured artists on ArtWeb. He specializes in clay monoprints and warns that he is not to be confused with the other Mitch Lyons on the Web.

"He's a football player with the Pittsburgh Steelers. His Web site will knock your socks off," Lyons-the-artist explains. "If people try to find me by typing in my name, they're going to go to his site and be inundated with football info."

Lyons adds that he's using his presence on ArtWeb to promote his workshops and his video, "The Art of Clay Printing." He has no expectation that it will lead to direct sales. Far from it.

"I hope to God people are not interested in buying my work from what they see on the screen. My work is about texture, color, surface and paper. Maybe they'll be piqued by the images on the screen, but they need to come see the real thing."

Painter Edward Loper, Sr., another featured artist on ArtWeb, agrees that electronic reproductions don't do justice to the original art. But he also feels that being on ArtWeb serves an important need: It helps people understand art.

"Most people who write about art make it sound like doves floating above your head," he says. "Looking at art is nothing more than discovering what the artist finds as beautiful - and maybe getting the same pleasure out of it. I'd love people to call me and ask what's going on in my paintings."

Contemporary painter and former Wilmington resident Gary Pagano is the most recent artist to join the site. Now the director of special events with MTV Networks in New York, Pagano says having people look at his images via the computer may be second best to viewing the real thing, but at least they're seeing it.

"Contemporary art doesn't have much of an outlet," he says. "This site is really a wonderful thing. It allows me to show work that has stretched me creatively, and to have people see it and comment on it. Jay is giving artists the opportunity to have a voice."

If Rosenthal has his way, art appreciation will become as important to mainstream America as computer literacy. And he wants to promote that goal any way he can. Checking out ArtWeb is a good first step for any would-be connoisseur. The second is to become familiar with the local art scene. Here in Wilmington that means visiting participating galleries on the Wilmington Art Loop, an event that takes place the first Friday of every month.

Or you could take a trip to Italy to view the work of the masters, buy a few art books and start hanging out at museums. That's what Jay Rosenthal did.