College Art Association

CAA News Today

John M. Rosenfield: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Sep 18, 2014

Richard Edwards is professor emeritus of the history of Chinese art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

John M. Rosenfield

John M. Rosenfield

My recollections of John M. Rosenfield, one of the preeminent historians and curators of Asian Art who taught for decades at Harvard University, are vivid and convey my sense of loss upon learning of his death, on December 16, 2013, at the age of 89. We shared the same “vibrations” as we passed through the life of our careers, hopefully to our mutual profit but certainly to mine. His book on Chōgen’s wooden portraiture is beside me as I write these words.

Rosenfield was a consistently energetic force in our field from the time we were in graduate school together. Our view of the Far East was nurtured during the 1950s in the musty yet friendly basement environment of Harvard’s Rubell Library, where the books on Asian art were kept, under the guiding hand of Benjamin Rowland.

John had an extraordinary sense of personal relations. We will never forget how closely related he was to this personal approach. He was not just a professional. He was a great man because he was a warm-hearted person, one whom you could always meet on a personal level, a quality seldom found in those too wrapped up in their professional duties and accomplishments.

It goes without saying we shared an interest in the world of art, but in addition his memory is warmly related to activities of our whole family. Along with his intellectual skill, this made him a great man to us. We lived in the same rented house serially, at Teramachi Imadegawa-angaru Junenji-mai in Kyoto, not far from the Imperial Palace grounds, in 1958–59. Later the Rosenfields lived there in 1964, and we took up occupancy again in the summer of 1964 after their departure.

John reached out to my children and family, who remember how welcoming he and his wife Ella were when we stopped over in Los Angeles and stayed with them on our way to the Far East. He was especially helpful to my daughter, Joan, a college sophomore at the time (1968/69), who was apartment hunting in Boston having found a summer job there. She did not meet with immediate success, and as John drove her to various locations he reassured her that the “Perfect Pumpkin is somewhere,” instilling hope that the ideal apartment was just around the corner. If one is willing to share family matters with a friend, it isa clear indication of resilience in dealing with the inevitable problems of living.

His kindness to our family was an emanation of warmth from his own with Ella and his two children, Sarah and Paul Thomas. My lateness in expressing my thoughts in no way diminishes the shock and bereavement felt at having to relinquish such a constant friend and insightful scholar so superior in humanity. Would that he were still working among us.

Filed under: Obituaries