The 254

Rhiannon Rosenbaum

By Megan Willome

Visual storyteller

Rhiannon Rosenbaum calls herself a lifelong learner — from acrylic to oil, to watercolor, to screen printing, to embroidery. And that’s no surprise since her grandmother introduced her to art.

“She’s in her 80s and still paints, still FaceTimes with me and goes through her sketchbook. She wants to see all my new work and in-progress work,” she said.

Rosenbaum moved to Waco from Washington state with her husband so he could study philosophy at Baylor University. He is almost finished with his dissertation, and she has become deeply involved in Waco’s art community.

“It almost has a fellowship feel to it. We go to each other when we need a critique. We see each other’s art on Instagram and cheer each other on. We welcome new artists seamlessly,” she said.

Much of Rosenbaum’s interaction with other artists comes through Cultivate 7Twelve, on Austin Avenue.

“When I met [owner Rebekah Hagman], I was like, ‘I’ve had nothing to do but paint at home, so I’d love to be involved.’ I was struggling to meet other artists and that opened the doors wide. Now I know almost everybody,” she said.

Rosenbaum has curated shows at Cultivate, including the Baylor student art show. She also mentors young artists from the school’s art department. She helps them move beyond the temptation to compare their work to what seems to be popular in the moment.

“You feel like to succeed you need to do what someone else is doing instead of what is in your soul to do. And that is the thing that reaches people,” she said. “People buy art because of the way it speaks to them.”

Her illustration titled “Waco Mandala” was part of a juried exhibition at the Texas State Capitol. The interior contains well-known Texas symbols and the outer edge focuses on Waco landmarks, including the Alico building, Burleson Quadrangle at Baylor, McLennan County Courthouse and the Suspension Bridge.

Rosenbaum says art tells a story in a way that is free from expectation. As a lover of theology, she once wanted to be a pastor but found herself shut down “so fast and hard,” she recalls. Now she feels a calling to explore the stories of women in the church.

“Women, we are the faithful every Sunday. I want to tell the stories of these women. I know the church hasn’t always lifted women up. We have some baggage as a whole. Art is a different way of seeing these issues,” she said. “Today we are into superhero women that are physically strong. I think that’s awesome, but we’re missing the virtuous woman.”

The artwork she says best expresses her heart is titled “The Passive Activist.” The painting is based on a black-and-white photograph of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement.

“It’s of her at a protest and she’s sitting on a chair. She has a stern, peaceful look on her face,” Rosenbaum said. “She’s one of my heroes.”

Women Saints

Rosenbaum is working on a show that will be at Cultivate in May or June 2021, featuring 10 female saints. “Joan of Arc, she was a warrior. St. Clare, she ran away from wealth and privilege to serve the poor, and her parents kept dragging her back home and trying to marry her off,” Rosenbaum said. “Women in the church don’t come in only one form, the meek and the supportive. There’s not anything bad about that. But they come sometimes in very bold forms. The church will grow if we embrace that.”