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From Classroom to Cézanne

For former art professors, ‘retirement’ means operating an art gallery

By Edward Graham

Richard and Rochelle Newman knew they wanted to continue their lifelong passion for art when they retired after a combined 60-plus years of teaching—they just didn’t know how or where.

The couple met when both were art students in Michigan at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills. After their marriage, they moved to Massachusetts where they kept up their love of art by creating it and teaching it to others.

Richard worked with painting and sculpture, and taught full time for 34 years at Bradford College, located in a section of Haverhill, Mass. He also chaired the college’s Creative Arts Division for many years. Rochelle created tapestries and collages, and worked full time for 28 years at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill. Later she worked at Merrimack College in North Andover. The Newmans loved spending time in a collegiate setting, surrounded by people with similar artistic interests.

In 2000, Bradford College closed its doors and the Newmans began looking for another artistic environment to spend their retirement. In 2003 “we discovered Ashland and Oregon when we attended a conference here in the city,” says Richard. “It’s a small-town atmosphere with a world-class theater component.”

Ashland, Ore., has only 22,000 residents but attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Ashland Independent Film Festival. The city is also home to Southern Oregon University, which was a major draw for the Newmans.

“We came for the three C’s—climate, culture, and community,” says Rochelle.

The couple traversed 3,500 miles, then settled in the Mountain Meadows Retirement Community—a serene development that is run and operated by some 270 homeowners, who are also actively involved in the community of Ashland. “It really reminded us of where we used to live and teach in Massachusetts,” says Richard.


“Minotaur,” above, was created by
retired professor and artist Richard
Newman, who owns Oregon's
Hilltop Art Gallery with his wife
Rochelle, also a retired professor
and artist.

The Newmans had moved to Ashland with a vague idea of how they would spend their time, but quickly found themselves pursuing an entirely new and exciting venture—opening and maintaining an art gallery. “Within a month of moving to Mountain Meadows Retirement Community we were serendipitously introduced to an unused space in the heart of the campus,” says Rochelle. “In unison, my husband and I said this would make a great art environment, and so the Hilltop Gallery came into being.”

The Newmans transformed the 850-square-foot, one-room space into an elegant gallery.

They put in new paint, carpeting, and lighting. In 2010, the Hilltop Gallery officially opened for business.

The gallery “is close to the clubhouse and next to the fitness center so people drop in easily,” Richard says.

The art also can have a therapeutic effect on the residents. “We promote the idea that the aging population needs to keep both their bodies as well as their minds fit,” he says. “We have also hosted workshops given by local artists for our community.”

To date, the gallery has held 18 exhibits and a variety of art workshops. Admission to events is free, and the Newmans work to attract retirees and other Ashland residents. “We try to connect with the Ashland community as a whole, as well as with those in the retirement community,” says Rochelle.

The Newmans strive to bring in the best artists—from nearby or further away. They have even featured the work of a young woman from South America.

“Our tastes in art are broad so we have shown everything from paintings, sculptures, prints, photos, fabric art, jewelry, and digital art,” says Richard.

The gallery is open one afternoon a week or by appoint-ment, while the Newmans reserve their mornings to work on their own projects in the artists’ studio they built beneath their home.

It may not have been in their original retirement plans, but operating an art gallery is an experience the Newmans say they wouldn’t trade.

Rochelle says she and her husband enjoy the opportunity to share their expertise and provide the community with a wide range of artists and styles to view. “For us,” she says, “It’s a labor of love as well as an educational experience.”

For more information, visit the Newmans and the Hilltop Art Gallery.


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