ABOVE The Rosens embraced rich wall colors, such as Benjamin Moore’s Dark Teal in the living room, where a pair of oil paintings by Rev. Jon Hale hangs above a settee from a bygone Burnham auction house. “People think white walls are the best way to display art, but a deep color can bring out qualities in the art and emphasize it as a treasure to appreciate,” Aaron says
TEXT BY SARAH STEBBINS
PHOTOS BY HANNAH HOGGATT
“Knowing that this was the home of a 19th-century pastor, he probably would have thought it curious to have a Jew and a priest living here,” Aaron Rosen says. But for Aaron, a religion and art professor, and his wife, Carolyn, priest at Ellsworth’s Saint Dunstan’s Episcopal Church, the 1831 Searsport Federal built for Rev. Stephen Thurston feels like the perfect fit. After purchasing the property in 2021, the Rosens, who later opened The Parsonage art gallery in the attached carriage house, researched its history at the nearby Penobscot Marine Museum. They discovered that Winslow Homer was a nephew of Thurston and his wife Clara and had sketched their cow. “It feels like we have a really good relationship living here with that spiritual and artistic past,” Aaron says. Alas, after renovating the buildings with Stockton Springs contractor Phil Nickerson, they’re fairly certain “there’s not a Winslow Homer buried in a wall.”
Another Hale oil crowns the fireplace, set off with a tiled panel and hearth; a vintage mirror reflects candlelight. The built-ins display antique Bibles, Jasperware collected by Aaron’s mother, and art books. When the original owners held their 50th wedding anniversary party here, they stood beneath a pine-bough arch, a detail that reminds Aaron of Christmas trees “Carolyn tends to keep up for too long.”
After living in England, Montana, and DC, Aaron, a Pittsfield native and Bowdoin grad, and Carolyn fulfilled their dream of settling in Maine. Artists who show in the couple’s gallery often stay in their home.
Locals remember the Rosens’ carriage house being used for Cub Scout meetings and an antiques business. After insulating, wiring, and Sheetrocking the structure, and installing a spiral staircase by Searsport’s Peter Sylvester, the couple opened their nonprofit contemporary art gallery here last year. An inaugural exhibit featured Brunswick artist Ian Trask’s strings of colorful spheres made from worn-out plush dog toys, cellophane wrappers, and other refuse. On a chalkboard wall, the Rosens’ son, Arthur, now five, embellishes enlarged versions of Trask’s conceptual drawings. “We want this to be a welcoming place where you can literally engage with the art,” Aaron says.
Rendered in Benjamin Moore’s Classic Burgundy, the study houses “quirky menorahs” (including moose and lobster shapes), vintage Shabbat candle holders, and other Judaica on corner shelves; works by Jewish artists Leonard Baskin, Marc Chagall, Raphael Soyer, and Ben-Zion; an embroidered chair and an oak bureau found on Facebook Marketplace; and a settee that came with the house. “It has these old, bouncy springs, so our son likes to use it as a diving board,” Aaron says.
Contractor Nickerson rebuilt the staircase’s low, flimsy balustrade with the original railing and the Rosens painted the treads, along with the stair treads in the side entry (below, right) and “every bloody floor” upstairs, Aaron says, in Benjamin Moore’s Waterbury Green. At left is a collection of “staircase art,” with works by Güler Ates, Kenneth Jarecke, Alex Massouras, and Arthur Cherry. At right, the couple paired prints of England, including a watercolor by Aaron’s aunt, Jean Watts, with antique chairs “that have an English feel to them,” Aaron says. Adds Carolyn, “We imagined it as a creative nook where Arthur could have tea parties and things.”
In addition to grouping art by subject or medium (as with the living room’s oil paintings), the Rosens create vignettes that reflect their personal relationships with artists. Here, works by two artists they represent, Alfonse Borysewicz and Dua Abbas Rizvi, bookend a drawing by Jessa Leff that Leff gave them when they left England. The three “are complementary in color and size,” Aaron says, “but there are also interrelationships that we see that wouldn’t be apparent to anyone else.”
Directly behind the family is a print by Victor Majzner that incorporates lines from the Bible’s Song of Songs 8:6. The verse was read at Aaron’s sister’s funeral, and his brother later had it tattooed on his arm. Aaron sent a photo of the tattoo to Majzner, who was working on a series about the Bible chapter, and it inspired the painting. “It’s a central, almost talismanic, piece for us as a family,” Aaron says.