Lorraine Riesenbach, 88, of Cherry Hill, a former teacher who at age 60 became an artist and an advocate for other artists in Philadelphia, died Saturday, Aug. 15, of complications from cancer at Jefferson Cherry Hill Hospital.
Mrs. Riesenbach created and ran the Artists’ House Gallery in Old City for 22 years. The showplace at 57 N. Second St. helped fledgling artists launch careers by displaying their works in a prominent setting.
During her tenure, the gallery staged 200 exhibits, displaying the work of artists primarily from the Philadelphia area. Most were graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA).
“It’s really hard for artists to get into the art world, because there are so many good art schools in Philadelphia, and there are good artists coming out every day,” she told the Temple News in 2013.
The gallery’s mission was to offer art lovers and collectors the chance to buy at affordable prices, as well as to introduce the young artists.
“From 1991 to 2013, she was instrumental in launching the careers of hundreds of local artists, many of whom have progressed to national and international success,” her son James said in an email.
Scott Noel, a professor of painting and drawing at PAFA, described Mrs. Riesenbach as a calm, generous person who formed close relationships with the artists she represented and maintained the ties even if their work wasn’t selling.
“Every time I encountered her, she was unfailingly kind and loyal — a force for good in the art world,” he said. “She had a real heart in a courageous way for the community she believed in, and an agency for making that community more tightly woven and supportive of each other. She was just a person of abiding decency.”
David Graeme Baker, a painter now living in Maine, said Mrs. Riesenbach reached out to him in his second year as a PAFA student. “She asked me if I was willing to put two pieces in the Artists’ House Gallery,” he said. “After that, she became a champion of mine.
“Nobody outside of PAFA said, ‘Hey, you can do this, you have some talent.’ That was meaningful to have someone to advocate for me, to say, ‘I see value in what you’re doing.’”
Baker said the mentor-protege relationship deepened over the years into friendship. “The way she approached developing a relationship with me is the gold standard. No one has ever exceeded it,” Baker said.
In 2017, PAFA recognized her with the Alumni Distinguished Service Award.
And in 2018, she was invited to curate a show, “Passion and Desire,” at the Stanek Gallery in Old City, where she showcased 13 of her artists, including Frances Wolf, wife of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
Gallery owner Katherine Stanek said she knew Mrs. Riesenbach as a fellow gallery owner. “She had a desire to see good art advanced,” Stanek said. “Passion and desire — it’s what drove Lorraine. I’m eternally grateful for her advice and support, and working with me on that exhibition.”
Born in Paterson, N.J., Mrs. Riesenbach earned a bachelor of arts degree from Pennsylvania State University and a master’s degree in reading education from Rowan University.
She married Marvin Riesenbach in 1952. They had four sons, whom they raised in Cherry Hill.
In 1971, she became a reading specialist in the Haddonfield public schools. She took courses from 1983 to 1987 at Moore College of Art and Design, and then switched to PAFA, graduating in 1991. She wanted a second career in the arts.
She worked from studios at home and in her gallery. Her artwork includes oil paintings in deep, rich colors.
Her works are in the collections of Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Camden, and Temple Emanuel, Cherry Hill; and in corporate offices and private homes as far away as Japan.
Besides her son and husband, she is survived by sons Lawrence, Robert, and Andrew; six grandchildren; and a brother.
A celebration of life will be held once the coronavirus pandemic has waned.