by Tom Kennedy
“The Green Light”
Rita lives and works in her home on Third Street in the Point. However, she was born at the southern extreme of the East Coast, in Miami Beach. Her childhood was spent in Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, where she attended public schools and enjoyed the advantages of the Big Apple. Rita says that she cannot remember a time when she did not enjoy drawing, but she did not think of this preoccupation with art as a career until much later in life. Her formal education concentrated on literary studies, both at Bard College, where she earned her B.A., and at Columbia, where she worked toward a graduate degree in Contemporary Literature. Rita also maintained her interest in art during this time at the Art Student’s League in New York and at Yale’s Norfolk School of Art. She married while at Columbia before completing her degree and followed her husband, an English teacher, to campuses in the New England while raising six children.
Rita’s main interest has been painting, which she taught at Stonehill College, the Brockton Museum, and Portsmouth Abbey School. Throughout her life Rita has worked, of necessity, mostly at home, and has had her work placed and exhibited wherever she could, mainly in New York, Boston, Providence and the Newport vicinity. Not being particularly career-oriented, Rita kept at her art because she loved the vocation. She worked continuously on developing her own artistic vision and personal style. Rita describes her paintings as non-narrative art, aimed at evoking or communicating a feeling in the viewer.
In her first years at Portsmouth Abbey School Rita had little space to paint at home, but had access to a press on campus and took up etching and printmaking with growing enthusiasm. Then, in 1977, her home on the Abbey campus burned to the ground. Although no one was injured in the fire, virtually every family possession and Rita’s early art works were destroyed. The family had to find new quarters quickly, and found them in a former dormitory, which had been empty for some years. but which was renovated to accommodate them. The unexpected blessing in the aftermath of this misfortune was a large space where Rita could once again set up a studio and continue painting. Rita won several grants, fellowships and awards during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, including a Grant-in-Aid in Printmaking, an Artist-in-Residence in Painting, and several other awards from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts; two Painting Fellowships at Yaddo, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., two additional Painting Fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation Fellowship in Painting.
Rita moved to Newport in 1986, after a difficult period in her life, initiated after a divorce and marked by ill health, displacement and financial distress. Left to her own devices, Rita lived by her wits, took whatever work she could get, and began working in architectural restoration and art conservation and repair. She developed and perfected skills in decorative painting, tromp l’oeil, faux finishes, gilding, and restoring and repairing frames and canvases. She did work of this sort for the Newport Preservation Society, the Redwood Library, the Naval War College, the Newport Historical Society and the Newport Art Museum. Many of the portraits and landscapes on view in the Newport mansions were cleaned, repaired and restored by Rita. Some of these paintings were in very poor condition and required extensive and very detailed work. Rita continues to paint her own canvases in her studio on Third Street, surrounded by easels, presses and the other requirements of a working artist and restorer.
Local venues for Rita’s art are many, including single shows at the Newport Art Association, the Newport Art Museum, the Sarah Doyle Gallery at Brown University, the DeBlois Gallery, Salve Regina University and Gallery One in Providence, among others. She is presently looking forward to a major retrospective show in the lgenfritz Gallery of the Newport Art Museum, beginning in late August and running through January of 2010.
A very amusing and engaging article, entitled “Have Brush — Will Travel,” appeared in the April 1991 edition of The Green Light. The article’s author, Rita Rogers, tells about her adventures in Gran Canaria, in the Canary Islands, where she was engaged in specialized surface decoration on a 17th century house. It is a charming piece, full of the type of unpredictability and comic misadventure that seem to have marked this talented artist and writer’s life more than most. A “must”read, if you can get your hands on it. Thus far, Rita has had a full and busy life in which her continuous pursuit of her craft has sustained her through both good and hard times. May she prosper!