Tom Rooney Exhibition

This piece is called Samaras Chair. Its medium is Pins and Leather on Wood and made in 2016. Joel D’Orazio, past WSG “Tom Rooney Prize” winner. Courtesy of Elsabé Dixon, President of WSG.

By Amanda McShane

Salve Regina Gallery and the Mullen Library held an invitational exhibition in honor of Tom Rooney (1924 – 2018), a sculptor and former educator at Catholic University. Also, he was one of the Founding Members of the Washington Sculptors Group (WSG) that was developed in 1984. It is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of sculpture and encouraging ideas among sculptors. The works in the show are by past WSG “Tom Rooney Prize” winners from 2007-2017. The invitational participating artists are Lincoln Mudd, Joel D’Orazio, Nicole Salimbene, Mike Shaffer, Jessica Beels, Monroe Isenberg and Jeremy Kunkel.

Rooney was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1924 and attended Catholic University in 1951, after serving in the armed services in World War II. He then graduated in 1955 and received his MFA in 1958.  He met his wife at Catholic, who was a student in the Harkte Theater program. They married in 1956, had a daughter in 1958 and adopted a son nine years later according to Rooney’s interview done by former Catholic student, Anna McWilliams in 2010.  

Rooney joined the Catholic University Art Department faculty in 1961 to replace Ken Noland, painter and co-founder of the Washington Color School. Rooney taught drawing and design for thirty years and then began teaching sculpture afterwards. He retired in 1995 from teaching at Catholic.

John Figura, Salve Regina Gallery Director and Assistant Professor, was a student of Rooney. He curated the show with Dr. Nora Heimann, Chair and Associate Professor of the Art Department, and Joan Stahl, Director of Research and Instruction at the University Libraries and Chair, Library Programming and Marketing Committee. Dr. Heimann had the chance to meet and work with Rooney when he was featured in the exhibition, she organized, of Catholic University’s staff and alumni called “Crafting a Legacy” in 2010.  

“I visited his studio a couple of times; and it was a memorable experience. His sculpture studio, which was set in a converted barn in the back of his charming Victorian home in Brookland, was a window into his creative world: filled with light, tools of every kind, pictures to inspire him by fellow artists (including his wife who was a painter), I found Tom delightful, witty and warm-hearted, very kind and welcoming to our students, and extremely talented as a sculptor,” said Dr. Heimann.

Tom Rooney’s 2010 artist statement for “Crafting For a Legacy”;

“When I was in the Armed Services during World War II, I had a lump of plasticine clay with me. My grandfather had given it to me to play with while I was still a child, and I loved to play with it. That lump of plasticine may have been the beginnings of my penchant for working with my hands in a creative sculptural way.” Rooney made a lasting impact on others and his community.

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