Artists Lilli Ann and Marvin Rosenberg are shown in July 2009 amid some of the art they created at their Applegate home. - Photos by Jamie Lusch

Remembering Lilli Ann

Weeks after the July 19 death of 86-year-old Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg, the community bulletin board at the intersection of Upper Applegate Road and Highway 238 still bore the message: "Lilli Ann, you will be missed."

No last name was needed to identify Rosenberg, who had been a fixture in the Applegate Valley for 21 years.

Among the many lives she touched were the youngsters at Ruch Elementary School, every one of whom made a ceramic piece under Rosenberg's tutelage for inclusion in the mosaic walkway between the school and the library next door. They didn't know Rosenberg was an internationally acclaimed mural artist with works installed on four continents. They just knew her as the woman who believed each individual piece was wonderful.

Rosenberg was a pixie of a woman who enjoyed life, and her joy was infectious.

"She's one of the most gracious ladies I've ever known," said Ruch librarian Thalia Truesdale, among dozens who worked with Rosenberg on the mural in the foyer of the library depicting the history of the Applegate. "I was thrilled to work with her on making clay pieces for the library mural. And she was such an incredibly generous hostess, whether planned or spontaneous."

Two-hundred people gathered in the Little Applegate in August for a private memorial celebration. After the program, family members and longtime friends remembered the artist's influence on their lives.

"Our parents were friends before there were children," said Rebecca Johnson, who grew up with the three Rosenberg children. "I'm an artist, and I support myself doing my art. You have to have incredible courage and faith to do that. I watched Lilli Ann: She supported herself actually making art. It was a beacon I could follow.

"It wasn't always easy. There were many jobs Lilli Ann didn't get, and we talked about that. How do you deal with the rejection, how do you get your foot in the door."

Rosenberg's brother, Clair Killen, explained their early peripatetic existence as the children of an often absent union organizer and early feminist mother who instilled in them the value of always making and paying their own way.

Lilli Ann Killen left home in Los Angeles at 17 with just enough money for a bus ticket to New York, where she talked her way into classes at Cooper Union and managed to get jobs making her art. She developed her style of community mosaic art involving — as often as possible — the people who would be living with the pieces.

She married Marvin Rosenberg, who died last year, and they moved from New York to Boston, and eventually to the Applegate. Rosenberg joined in his wife's artwork after his retirement from social work. He engineered her larger pieces.

"She was the most inclusive person I ever met," said Applegate neighbor Karen Salant. "They were so socially responsible — totally aware and responsible and just the most personable people. They didn't just talk about things. If you thought something was wrong, you should do something, and they thought of things to do. They never did it by themselves; they always drew people in to work together."

"When we went to Boston, we went on the Rosenberg trail," added Salant, "looking at all their work."

"I remember her conveying her belief every person is an artist if you let it come out, let yourself do it. And she made it fun for everyone who worked with her, child to adult," said Salant's husband, Peter Salant.

"She inspired me because of how she dissolved boundaries between people and in the world," said Lee Showerman of the Applegate. "She would so seamlessly break all the rules but so elegantly and gracefully. She was dignified in all she did. She had a fearless willingness to move forward not knowing anything, but eager to learn."

"Her work is so accessible it really speaks to everybody," said artist Jeremy Criswell, who worked with the Rosenbergs the last five years. "It uses simple materials and bright colors, and people think it must be easy to do, but it isn't."

Lilli Ann Killen Rosenberg's life was much like her art: a mosaic of beautiful pieces, bright moments in time, brought together to share and enhance the lives around her.

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