Pictured Above: Artists James Feehan and Susan Roseman. Photo credit: Philip Stephano.
Art, Dogs, and Life in Balance: At Home and In the Studio with Susan Roseman and James Feehan
By Louise Feder
Turning onto Susan Roseman and James Feehan’s gravel driveway on a sunny afternoon, there’s only one thing I know for sure about the studio visit ahead: there will be dogs.
Sure enough, I’m greeted at the garden gate by three smallish barking, jumping, happy dogs, who run out, around, and through Roseman’s legs. Although, not all three canines live here in the couple’s shared Plumsteadville home and studio. “I’m pet sitting,” Roseman assures me. “It’s not always like this.” But it’s hard to imagine any of the dogs wanting to leave – the home is clearly as much for its humans as it is for any and all resident pups.
Pictured Above: Artist Susan Roseman’s linocut art. Photo credit: Contributed.
Dogs and art dominate the sunny kitchen just beyond the front door. Roseman’s dog-centric prints, handmade greeting cards, and other print material are on the walls, table and shelves, along with paintings by Feehan and yet more artwork by colleagues and friends alike. A wall to the left, dubbed “The Dog Wall” is a shrine to all things canine with artwork by friends and colleagues, celebrating pooches old and new, known and imagined. It is, simply, a joy to behold.
But even more special, and somewhat unexpected, is the studio. Immediately off of the kitchen and the largest room in the house, Roseman is set up on one side (nearest to The Dog Wall), with mountains of prints, collages, cards, and cutouts of all sizes on every available surface, and then somewhere in the room’s middle, Feehan takes over. His side has a table full of pigments for making his own paint, paintings, drawings, and reference images on the wall, and a small, carefully executed triptych on the easel, a work in progress.
Pictured Above: a variety of dried pigments for James’ paint making. Photo credit: Contributed.
It’s practically a study in opposites: Roseman’s work is full of play with strong lines, overlapping imagery, and a sense of urgency, to produce as much as possible in every inch of the space provided. Feehan’s paintings are more introspective, and given he makes his own paints and works in oils, his pace is slower, more deliberate; his side of the studio is dreamy and contemplative. And yet, even with every possible difference – in media, in message, in size, and in tone – there are no firm divisions in the studio and the pairing somehow feels natural. It works.
“We just want to work, and that’s what we’re doing,” Roseman says. “I’m kind of this side, and he’s kind of that side…”
“Sometimes she’ll enlist me to work on the cards.” Feehan chimes in. “And then she’ll get fussy about how the cards look so then I’ll get fired from that occupation. And I wander back to my little area where I’m allowed to be. And Sue thinks this is just ducky because she’s able to discount the countless interruptions that happen in daily life.”
“Because it’s in the house!” Roseman agrees with a laugh.
This is where the pair’s united front is clearest – their shared, singular goal is to create art, everything else comes second (except perhaps the dogs). On a typical day, they wake up (their bedroom is just off the studio), “deal with the dogs,” as Feehan puts it, and then start working right away. At some point, Roseman may leave to deliver her Artie Art greeting cards (at the time of my visit, she had just completed 200 cards in 4 days, all handmade for 7 local Dogs & Cats Rule stores), and there may be a degree of “managing or fending off” the endless parts of life that want to take Roseman and Feehan away from their work, but otherwise the plan is to work, every day, until the day is through.
“Keep working. Keep your head straight.” Feehan says of their daily routine. “Which is a challenge.”
Pictured Above: Artist James Feehan at work. Photo credit: Contributed.
The couple have been on the same page about their artistic priorities since they met in New Hope in the early 1980s. Roseman arrived in New Hope in 1973, after graduating from PAFA and Feehan came just a few years later in 1979, taking an apartment in Lambertville at the suggestion of a friend who talked up the area’s community of artists.
“I found this community, this rich tapestry, this beautiful area that just was enchanting.” Feehan remembers. “Coming down the picturesque River Road into New Hope and all along the route – I was fascinated by the homes nestled alongside the river in the greenery. That all gave me a strong feeling of connection and attraction… It was not a trouble to meet artists and feel that sense of community, which I hadn’t really experienced before.”
“We both waitered, and set our schedules so we could waiter on the weekends and then work on our art during the week, which was nice.” Roseman adds. “When I first met James, in his little one room apartment, his drawing table was his bed.”
Feehan laughs. “Sue kind of moved in with me. With her dog that was as big as a cow, promptly got me kicked out of the place I was living in, above the Pod Shop right opposite Mother’s [restaurant in New Hope]. That was the heyday, the golden triangle time of New Hope. Concentrated activity, if you needed a job, you could get a job. That was the halcyon period… I went down Ney Alley in 1979 – and he [painter Lloyd “Bill” Ney] was there! And you just walk in [his studio], and that’s how it was. It was pretty romantic and pretty hard not to be influenced by.”
Pictured Above: “Carversville Settle,” by artist James Feehan. Photo credit: Contributed.”
Roseman nods in agreement. “It was pretty romantic, the area…It just really sucked you right in. And there was such a sense of community. It’s like no other place, really.”
The pair were married at Philips Mill in 1985. A true local affair, they traded art for everything except the venue – from the music (Carol Brooks and her band), to the food (by Havana’s, the restaurant where they both worked and first met), to the flowers, to the rabbi. “We traded for all of it,” Roseman says with a smile.
They lived in Frenchtown for two years, before buying their current property. “We had started on a quest to find something we could afford to buy, and work, and live in. And Susan found this: 8 acres with a building on it.” Feehan says. “It was the mid 80s, we didn’t think we’d ever find anything; everything [the real estate market] was changing so quickly. But we did.”
Though rural Plumsteadville was a big change from the bustling river towns of New Hope, Lambertville, and Frenchtown where they had lived previously, both Roseman and Feehan saw the opportunity to expand and build a home and studio as another chance to foster community. They converted a small building on the lot into a large studio space for Feehan and built a house to go along with it in 1987.
Pictured Above: Feehan and Roseman on their wedding day. Photo credit: Contributed.
“We moved in right after we got the toilet installed!” Feehan chuckles.
Roseman shushes him but agrees. “We roughed it. But it was worth it; it was all for our art.”
In the ensuing years, they opened the studio up to the community as much as possible. Roseman ran a program at Neshaminy Manor with late New Hope Arts founder Robin Larsen called Arts for the Manor, that involved art therapy, pet therapy (her beloved late dog Artie went for 16.5 years), and getting seniors out of the Manor for art experiences. Both Feehan and Roseman taught a special course for the Solebury School for several years, picking students up and bringing them to the studio for lessons. There were Sunday painting lessons for adults, visits, and more, all while Roseman ran a gallery in Stockton, Riverbank Arts with (closed in 2012) Peter Errico.
And then, tragedy. In 2005, the studio caught fire. Luckily no one was hurt, but the space was destroyed, along with countless books, paintings, prints, and more. Roseman walks me through the ruins and even nearly 20 years on, the damage – mangled metalwork, charred frames, blackened books, and more – is heart wrenching.
It was the fire that led to Feehan moving his studio into the house, alongside Roseman. And though they both miss the studio, still hoping one day to rebuild, working and living together in one space was their plan from the beginning.
Pictured Above: “Poultry Pageant,” by James Feehan. Photo credit: Contributed.
“From living in the Laceworks [in the early 1980s], we knew we wanted to live in a warehouse – live in our studio,” remembers Roseman. “We didn’t really want a house. We have a living room – we’ve been here since 1985 and we’ve never used it once. It’s storage!”
Interestingly, neither Roseman or Feehan think their work is immediately influenced by having their old paintings, and drawings, etchings and cards surround them while they create now in their shared studio. Though Feehan does point out that Roseman is much better equipped to combine and collage work with it so easily within reach. “She has a trove of work that feeds off of one another,” Feehan says as Roseman demonstrates how she makes a card (“Maybe I put some red there…” she says. “Each one is kind of done by hand, really. Then I just… [dots the paper]. Maybe some more stuff in the background, maybe some blue eyes…”).
Feehan walks me over to his side of the studio so we can look at his recent work. There is a selection of small paintings, all rolling green hills and trees along a familiar river. It’s a new direction for him; creating landscapes based on actual, local roads and vistas instead of producing purely imagined imagery.
“I like to look at the stuff that we have.” Feehan says, considering the studio space. “I think that the drawings likely are much more of an influence on me and my work, but I can’t see those all the time, because they’re stored away. There’s so damn many of them. So then I’m on my own and I have to freewheel, but I like it. And to now look at the landscape as fodder, as subject matter, and examine the places that I want to go to in my own mind that I’ve seen and obviously catch me up in some idea of journey…that’s what I’m trying to incorporate in my work to emphasize, a sort of spiritual progression that’s not obvious and is instead a comforting piece of legend about the area.”
Pictured Above: Roseman’s animal loving art functions across various, joyful Eric and Christopher products. Photo credit: Contributed.
As I prepare to leave, Roseman makes me a little bag of assorted Artie Art goodies – miniature cards, cut outs, pins, and more. While she packages up the paper goods, Feehan shows me around the backyard. The dogs are playing, the sun is shining, it’s a gorgeous afternoon in Bucks County.
“It’s nice to live in a situation where everything seems to be in balance,” he says as Roseman rejoins us. “Maybe not us, but everything else is encouraging us in that respect.”
Susan Roseman and James Feehan’s artwork can be viewed at Canal Frame – Crafts Gallery in Washington Crossing and Connexions Gallery in Easton. Roseman’s Artie Art cards can be found in shops throughout Bucks County and on her website here. More of Roseman’s work can be found on her website here and Instagram. Feehan’s work can be found on his website here and on Instagram.
Upcoming on November 9th, you can meet both artists from 6-9 pm, during the opening reception for James’ solo exhibition at ARTWRKD, located in Newtown, PA. Feehan’s solo show runs through November 19th.
For questions and inquiries, they can both be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 267-885-3418.