13 Rose Frantzen


Rose in front of her exhibit, 'In the Face of Illusion', 2017

Rose Frantzen is an excellent painter from Maquoketa, Iowa, and the wife of painter Charles Morris. Rose and her parents bought the former town hall in Maquoketa in 1991, and converted it into a studio and gallery space. Rose has exhibited her work around the US, including a show at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in DC. She's a member and faculty of the Portrait Society of America, where she's won awards. Her most ambitious project was her portrait of Maquoketa, in which she invited everyone in town to have their portraits painted. The resulting 180 portraits were first shown at the Smithsonian in 2006. Rose then mounted these small, square portraits on the backs of larger panels where she painted a quite large landscape of the town.

'Self-Portrait: Watching, Waiting'

Rose grew up in Maquoketa and started painting portraits while in high school. She talks about this point in time with Lesley Saeta and Maria Bennett Hock in this podcast interview (Artists Helping Artists, 2013):

"When I was, maybe, a teenager, I guess maybe fourteen was the first time I ever drew a portrait. And, I did it from a grid in my 9th grade art class, if that makes any sense. You know the grids when you square it up and stuff? Right? I didn't know you could draw people, and my teacher had us draw the grid, and then I took a photograph my dad had taken of my brother and I when we were little kids. And, I did that. And, it was so amazing, it was so awesome! I was like, 'oh my god! I'm totally gonna paint people and draw people the rest of my life!'"

'Dormancy Series: Breach, Lament, & Yield'

Rose studied commercial art at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, but she also began oil painting for the first time. She says (Saeta & Hock, 2013):

"And so, when I went to art school--when I was in high school I started doing portrait drawings in pencil for money. And, I was saving that, and that's how I paid for art school. But, when I went to art school, the first teacher I ran into kind of thought that I was sort of lost without a paddle. And, he could tell I didn't reall have much money. He thought I need a more organized profession, where I would go commercial art. And, I would go home to Iowa during summer break and do portrait commissions. And, so I came back and thought, 'Maybe I should ask if it was okay for me to go into oil painting, because I did these portrait commissions, and they seemed to be kind of paying my way?' And, so the school allowed me to kind of  break the pattern of the commercial art direction, and do sort of a floating thing where I did some fine art classes and some commercial art classes."

"I was really undirected. I didn't know what I could do or what I wanted to do, but I had these impulses that kind of were guiding me. And, eventually after being at the American Academy, I got a commissioned portrait in Australia. And, I had been painting only like five or six months? And, these people had me come out to Australia. . . . I was doing commercial art for them, I was doing portraits. And, this guy who was running this big commercial art firm in Australia, my friend had him come over and see my paintings, like photographs of what I did. And, he saw photographs of my first four paintings, that I had done. And he said, 'Wow, if I could paint like this I would never be a commercial artist.' And, right then I stopped completely doing commercial art, and I went totally toward painting. That's how I found my way. . . . It totally changed the course of my life. I remember when I was standing right there in his office, when he was looking at the photographs of my paintings, and when he said that, that was it. I said, if in five years I'm still starving I'll try to get a real job."

'Relative Innocence'

Rose continues, about how she found the Palette & Chisel Academy, under Richard Schmid (Saeta & Hock, 2013):

"But, at that point I came back to Chicago, I had three months left of art school that I'd paid for that I hadn't finished. And I became really serious about painting. And when we was done with that... So I got all my friends, Nancy Guzik, we were all painting during our lunch hour, we were painting after school till they kicked us out, we were posing for each other, and  doing anything we could. But, Nancy would go out to this place called the Palette & Chisel in Chicago. And, this was an open studio, and I highly recommend people going to open studios. In fact, whenever I go to a new city, I always find the open art studios where you can just paint live models or work with people. It's a great way to meet other artists. And, you can always find out where those are by going to the art supply stores. So, that's how, any city I've gone to, all over the country and other parts of the world, I try to find the art store and go to see where they have the figure drawing classes and then I can meet artists."


"We were at this open studio, and that's where Richard Schmid happened to show up and started painting. And we eventually, Nancy, of course . . . a great painter, and really great friend of mine. And Nancy started asking this Richard guy about her paintings. And I was too scared to ask him. That's how he was in my head, that Richard guy. And, he became her future husband, right? . . . Anyway, she started asking questions. And I, having spent my first winter in Australia, thought I'd never live in a cold place again. So, I moved to Texas when Nancy started asking Richard questions, and Nancy was getting really good! And, I'm like, in Texas thinking, 'What did I do?! What did I do!?' So, I came back to Chicago, and I had the guts by then after three months of being in Texas to ask Richard about my paintings."


"And, that's how it started, that's how he became my mentor. He was painting in this public studio, and he would just work on his painting, and then he might get up at a break and say something to one person, and you would listen to anything he said to anybody else, and you would try to garner some sort of lessons and information or see what he was sort of saying, and then you would try to apply it to your painting. It was a real informal kind of setting."


"I happened to meet Richard Schmidt, I think when I was twenty one? So, that pretty much helped me out quite a bit, because he was a great painter who . . . I think probably the most essential thing he shared with me was that it was possible you could be an artist, that you could have a career. And, I had never met anybody who had done anything like that before, being from Iowa, which was really a small town. I didn't know that you could grow up and make paintings, and people would buy paintings, and put 'em up on their wall.  I know that sounds a little naive, but I was really naive. I just knew for a long time that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, but I didn't know exactly what that meant. And, meeting Richard Schmidt at such an early age kind of told me to that it was possible, a tangible reality."

'Reflections on Illumination'

Rose then studied at the Lyme Academy College of Art, under Deane Keller.

'Mrs. Zimmerman

"When I moved to Iowa, was when I really started painting landscapes. That was in '90-'91. Because out here that's pretty much what you're surrounded with. So, it became a big part of my work,  for a very long time it was primarily what I did, because it wasn't always so easy to get models. So, I would try to go find a model. I'd find a model at the grocery store, I would go anywhere. If I saw you in a parking lot, and you looked like someone willing to pose, I'd ask you, 'Hey, can you pose for me?' Actually, I'd sort of say, 'Do you have a life?' And, they'd look at me weird, because you don't want your models to have too much of a life, otherwise they won't have any time to pose."


Rose talks about her painting methods (Saeta & Hock, 2013):

"I've been painting for 28 years. And, so I have this long history of no medium, and then I have exploring different mediums. I have a history of painting only direct alla prima, or direct painting. Then, I've got years of glazing, where what medium you use is very essential. I've done it with Liquin, I've done it with Alkyd, I've done it with the old master's stuff where it's just turpentine with oil and damar. So, I've tried all different forms. Partly because, when you're trying to understand your life through paint, you see that you need different skill sets and different approaches to painting to help you explore those questions. And, so that pushed me in, oh I should learn about glazing, or I should learn about grasaille, or a different approach to solve these problems."

'Up the Block'

Rose talks about how her art has evolved over time (Saeta & Hock, 2013):

"I think of it as a very romantic period. Because, in those early years, for the first nine, ten years, you spend so much time learning to paint, that all my growth was marked by a new understanding of painting, and now my growth is marked by a new understanding of living, and translating that into questions that can be painted. So, it's a lot more cerebral and a lot more complicated now than when I was younger. When I was younger it was just like, a color would make me paint it. The impulses were really just about the materiality of painting and looking at the world, much more like a naturalism phase."


"When you get older you have something you feel like you ache to say. And when you attempt to understand your life through painting, or when you spend so many hours painting a day, it becomes a language that you want to understand your life in. And, so I will have a life question, and then I feel like, if I can put that in front of me on the easel, the artist part of me can actually look at it in ways that maybe the grocery store shopping person in me can't. And so the artist teaches me how to live my life, or about life, or about appreciation of life and beauty. And, so I like to put things in front of her on the easel. I don't mean to sound schizophrenic, I'm not schizophrenic, but it's interesting to understand that we have these different parts of our selves."


"A lot of my paintings come from sentences that are in my head, or questions that I have about my life. Here's an example that I find pretty easy to talk about. I had this question that I wasn't feeling very close, like centered, in the world. And I've had whole periods of my life where one felt in a loving relationship with the world around you. And I saw, I felt that I'd gotten lost, kind of judging myself, and the question in my head was, where did it go? What happened to that? 

"And, my dad was digging up some plants from the garden that had to be out of the ground. Up here in Iowa you can't have them in the winter. They were Canas. They don't make it in the ground all winter. You have to dig 'em up. And, he was digging up the Canas. And, all summer long we had been celebrating the beautiful growth of these plants. And never had they grown so well in our garden before. It was all this above ground growth, this giant celebration. We were like, 'They made it!' They made it to 8-10 feet. They were glorious. We were just like, wow! it was a conversation between my husband, myself, and my parents who live just four blocks away from me. 

"And, when my dad was digging them up in the autumn, he dug up these roots, and the roots were an entire world that I hadn't even thought of or even considered. And, so it struck me that maybe the world that I celebrate is still there, but under ground. And I did a whole series of paintings from that question. Does that make sense? And then I started to explore, like, what are some underground natures in myself?"

'Tabor Winery'

'On Hamilton Prairie'

'Ethel Reading'


'Faced Glory'

'Joseph Sleeping'

'Opening Night, Backstage'


'Looking Back'

'Even a Sparrow'



'Held in Brambles'

'Parents Dancing'

'Janie's Dream'

'Fishing for Herring at Night'

'Ethel Washing Dishes'

'Area Man'

'Ethel in a Scarf'

'Tony: Alla Prima'


'Melting Snow'

'Red Barn'

'Beidler Farm'

'Clove Lake Bridge'

'Dappled Stream'

'Doorway to a Garden'

'Still Life with Pumpkins'

'Pomegranate & Ginger'

'Pink & White Peonies'