Rose Frantzen’s paintings capture a rare human condition
By Carole Gieseke
Rose Frantzen paints in the moment.
The very nature of her art forces her to make decisions while she paints – with no planning or sketching beforehand. Every color, every stroke, every nuanced fold of skin, is chosen quickly as she sits across from her very live and human subject.
It’s called alla prima – an Italian phrase meaning “at first” or “in one sitting” – and it’s pretty much the Olympics of painting.
Frantzen has mastered the alla prima art form, first with her much-heralded Portrait of Maquoketa series of 180 portraits of people from her home town of Maquoketa, Iowa, which landed in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in 2009. She connected with Iowa State through a 2015 commission by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences that became a remarkable dual portrait titled Do You Know What’s Inside this Flower? George Washington Carver Mentors a Young Henry A. Wallace.
Then, in 2016, Frantzen mesmerized Iowa State Fair goers by painting portraits of 21 Iowa State alumni, students, faculty, and staff in the Iowa State exhibit space in the Varied Industries Building – about two per day for 10 days – while half a million visitors looked on. She followed up with another series of portrait-painting sessions, creating 13 more portraits of Iowa Staters on campus in March and April 2017.
The combined portraits have become a permanent part of University Museums’ Art on Campus Collection and will be exhibited as Faces of Iowa State Aug. 21 – Dec. 8 in the Brunnier Art Museum, followed by a touring exhibit in 2018.
Frantzen said the process of painting in front of so many people in a public space felt like being in a bubble, because “the distractions were enormous.” It forced her to become very focused.
“There’s such an immediacy with this process,” she said. “You have to be on your game. You’re trying hard to get a sense of the person, and you really don’t know them. The conversations I had [with Iowa Staters] were really enlightening. I felt like I was a student; I was learning from every person I sat in front of.”
Iowa State’s tradition of portraiture began in the 1930s, at the height of the Great Depression, when the administration made it a priority to commission and paint portraits of presidents, deans, accomplished faculty, and distinguished alumni. A steady commissioning of portraits continues to take place across campus as a means of “celebrating, commemorating, and honoring Iowa State’s cultural legacy,” according to Lynette Pohlman (L)(’72 int des, MA ’76), director and chief curator of University Museums.
Frantzen’s process is incredibly fast and intimate. The results are raw and electric. “There’s a human connection left in the paintings,” Frantzen said. “It’s that intimacy of one person looking at another person [when you do] live portrait painting.
Everyone who is painted is looking right at me, too. You don’t often have the liberty to do that in life. Part of what I feel this culture needs is a more present awareness of each other’s humanity. When you sit across from anybody for four to five hours and look at them and appreciate them and talk to them, you cannot help but feel genuine fondness and maybe even love for them. That experience – in that exchange, in that moment – that is a vivifying human act.”
Larry Ebbers (A)(’62 ag ed, MS ’68, PhD ’72 higher ed), a university professor in the ISU School of Education, was one of Frantzen’s subjects.
“I loved the process,” Ebbers said. “Rose Frantzen has the ability to engage you in a conversation about your areas of interest and expertise and at the same time describe her life history in a way that made the time go so quickly. Everyone agreed that she really captured me.”
Frantzen said she found each of the Iowa State subjects extremely passionate. “The people of Iowa State have a passion for their work, for what they’re doing; they’re driven and directed and very positive. When I was painting the people of Iowa State, I felt like I was experiencing humanity at its best.”
Faces of Iowa State
- Grace Amemiya*
- Marcia Borel (’78 family environ)**
- George Burnet (’48 chem engr, MS ’49, PhD ’51), Anson Marston dist prof emeritus / retired chair of Dept of Chem Engr**
- Alicia Carriquiry (MS ’86 statistics, PhD ’89 an sci), dist prof statistics**
- Jay Chapman (’90, MS ’93 aero engr)**
- Miriam De Dios (’04 mgmt/mkt)**
- Larry Ebbers (’62 ag ed, MS ’68, PhD ’72 higher ed), univ prof, School of Education**
- Simon Estes (’97 honorary)
- Evan Fritz (’16 kinesiology)**
- Wayne Fuller (’55 ag business, MS ’57 ag econ, PhD ’59), dist prof emeritus in stats/econ*
- Mary Giese (’68 elem ed)**
- Matthew Goode (’17 materials engr)
- Carol Grant (’52 home ec)**
- Mary Jane Hagenson (’74 physics, MS ’76 biomed engr, PhD ’80 chem engr)**
- Stephanie Hansen (’02 an sci), assoc prof of an sci
- Norm Hill, dir of logistics & support services
- Kathy Howell (’68 math)**
- Petrina Jackson (MA ’94 English), head of Special Collections / Univ Archives*
- Karen & Gerald Kolschowsky (’62 ag business)**
- Warren Kuhn, prof emeritus / retired dean, ISU library services
- Lori Jacobson (’80 history / advertising design)*
- Monica Lursen (’72 dietetics)
- Joe Lyon (’51 dairy science)**
- Surya Mallapragada, dist prof / Carol Vohs Johnson chair in chem & bio engr
- Ed McCracken (’66 elect engr)**
- Laurie Meythaler-Mullins (PhD ’08 vet med)
- Dave Miller (’75 elect engr), retired dir, Facilities Planning & Mgmt**
- Dynette Mosher (’81 home ec ed, MS ’84), College of Human Sciences alumni relations dir**
- Charity Nebbe (’96 pol sci)**
- Suku Radia (’74 accounting)**
- Eric Schares (’05 elect engr)
- Shirley Stakey (’57 home ed ed)**
- JaneAnn Stout (’71 applied art, MA ’74)*
- Paxton Williams (’00 comm studies/pol sci)**
Plus: Rose Frantzen (self portrait) and her husband, Charles Morris
Frantzen will paint two additional portraits during a two-day residency on campus in October
Brunnier Art Museum (ISU campus)
Aug. 21 – Dec. 8, 2017
Maquoketa Art Experience (Maquoketa, Iowa)
Dec. 9, 2017 – Feb. 12, 2018
Muscatine Art Center (Muscatine, Iowa)
Feb. 15 – April 15, 2018
Pearson Lakes Art Center (Okoboji, Iowa)
April 26 – July 23, 2018
Blanden Art Museum (Fort Dodge, Iowa)
Aug. 4 – Oct. 14, 2018
Additional dates and locations may be added.
Oct. 10, 2017, 7-8:30 p.m.
Meet Rose Frantzen and view the 39 portraits included in the Faces of Iowa State exhibition in the Brunnier Art Museum. Free admission. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Annual member **Life member
This article was originally published in VISIONS magazine. To receive the full issue delivered to your mailbox four times per year, become a member of the ISU Alumni Association.