Past the artisan drinks shops, antique stores, and farmers market, you can find artwork on Austin Ave. that explores womanhood, prayer, holiness, and the bonds of community. Meet Rhiannon Rosenbaum: local artist, painter, and curator at Cultivate7Twelve.
Rosenbaum has been painting as long as she can remember. She was raised in Northern California by her grandmother, who was also an artist. The two began painting together then, and they still regularly FaceTime to talk about their latest paintings and dream about future projects though they live in different states.
16 years ago, Rosenbaum’s painting was complicated by a car accident that left her with daily physical pain. She explained, “I’m not super prolific because I can only do a little at a time. The slow rhythm is totally against my natural personality as an overachiever. Sometimes, it’s very frustrating for me, but the difficulty is also why faith, art, and mental and physical pain all mesh together. It’s forced me to learn to have patience with myself and to trust that, for whatever reason, this is my cross to bear.”
Because of the chronic pain, Rosenbaum has relied on prayer to sustain her life and work. She prays for herself often as she manages the various effects of chronic pain. “It’s not just the physical pain. It’s easy to get so bogged down and discouraged. So, I have to pray for my own soul too, that I can accept what God has given to me.”
The chronic pain limits the amount of time she can work, so she prays regularly that she can make the time count. She commented, “I pray that I could get where I need to go even when I do not know where that is.”
Right now, Rosenbaum is painting 10 different Christian women for a project about the female saints. The paintings incorporate oils and gold leaf for bright depictions that are animated with life and energy. So far, she has completed paintings of Joan of Arc, Saint Claire, Edith Stein, and Saint Bridget of Ireland (all of which you can see on her Instagram).
Rosenbaum explained that endless hours of research went into this project. As much as she loves the research process, she knows that this sort of knowledge will only take her so far. Instead, Rosenbaum thinks that knowing yourself as a child of God is far more important. She said, “When you know who you are and are able to give that freely to God, that is where the sweetest stuff of life is found.”
This project, especially, has offered her an invitation into greater personal knowledge of God. She has always asked the saints to be with her, to encourage her, and to give her the grace to paint for a couple hours on this day or that day. With this project, she has begun asking the female saints to guide and help her before she begins to paint them.
According to Rosenbaum, “Praying and walking with the saints helps her to stay afloat.”
As she paints the female saints, Rosenbaum is hoping to challenge the traditional notions of what a holy woman is like. She says, “We have a rigid image of what a holy woman looks like, but that may not be accurate.”
“God gives us what He gives us. Who are we to complain?”
Although it is easy to imagine a virtuous woman as quiet, prayerful, and dedicated to her family, this is not a full view of holy womanhood. Rosenbaum points out, “We also have scholars, activists, warriors, and all manner of loud women that we know were holy too.”
Rosenbaum’s thinking about identity, holiness, and womanhood began in her childhood.
She described, “My grandmother was the matriarch of the household, and my grandpa rarely talked. Though he was a good and godly man, he wasn’t the spiritual leader. She simply was, because she was built to lead. I think sometimes there’s a subtle guilt or shame that lingers when people live outside the traditional roles. Then, people can feel like they’re failing, even though they’re living into their God-given identities and giftings.”
“Not only can women lead, but sometimes they are even more equipped to lead. It’s not about gender, it’s about the giftings, personality, and identity that a person has received from God. Our differences are wonderful, but we don’t always feel comfortable talking about them in Christian circles.”
Rosenbaum described that Christians should celebrate the different giftings that God instills in each person’s personality. The Church, then, should emphasize individual giftings as personalized avenues for people to offer their identities and giftings back to God, for His service.
Rosenbaum hopes that her art can help churches to recognize that there are many ways to be holy. She pressed, “Men and women both bear the image of God, so there is something sacred in the masculine and feminine. Understanding the full potential of both will help us to understand God and fully embrace one another as children of God with God-given identities.”
As an ambitious artist who can only paint through pain for a few hours a day, Rosenbaum embodies a God-given identity that challenges traditional expectations. Her laughter, grit, and prayer serve as an example for anyone willing to embrace their God-given identity and return it faithfully to His service.
She says, “God gives us what He gives us. Who are we to complain?”