Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Seymour Rotman, 79, prized painter

THE MAN stalking the city streets over the past 30 years with a pack on his back bristling with paint brushes and canvas was likely an artist named Seymour Rotman.

THE MAN stalking the city streets over the past 30 years with a pack on his back bristling with paint brushes and canvas was likely an artist named Seymour Rotman.

Seymour had a mission. He was eager to capture with oil and canvas rapidly disappearing neighborhoods and the people who dwelled and worked therein.

It was a race against time, but Seymour succeeded in making an artistic record of some of the city's unique and treasured neighborhoods before they changed forever.

Seymour Rotman, an Army veteran of the Korean War, whose day job was as a technical illustrator specializing in medical subjects, died May 26 of a heart condition. He was 79 and lived in Society Hill.

It would have been a rare day that the Rittenhouse Square Art Show hung an exhibit on its fabled clotheslines without including Seymour Rotman's cityscapes, still lifes and portraits.

He also exhibited at galleries, but the Rittenhouse Square show was one of his main outlets. He won a number of prizes there.

"His cityscapes chronicled diverse communities of working-class Philadelphians," said his son, Lucas Rotman.

Seymour had no intention of making money with his art. If a visitor liked one of his paintings but lacked the money for the asking price, Seymour often would let them have it at a cut rate.

"It was enough for him that people appreciated his work," his son said. "Instead of seeking financial reward, he derived his pleasure from the response of people to his paintings."

Seymour was born in Philadelphia, one of the four children of Frank and Eva Rotman. He grew up in Kensington, where the family operated a small grocery.

His experiences in the Army sharpened his desire to pursue a career as an artist. His visits to the museums and cathedrals of Europe inspired a lifelong love of art.

He attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on the GI Bill, and spent a year in Mexico observing the work of the famed muralists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Their work, which often depicted the working class and the city and landscapes of Mexico, had a profound influence on his art.

While at the Academy, he met his future wife, the former Miki Maehara. They were married in the early '60s and made their home in a small rowhouse at 7th and Rodman streets, in Society Hill.

When you first encountered Seymour, you might have been put off by his gruff exterior, but if you got to know him, you realized that beneath that bristly surface beat a heart of gold.

"He was the most giving, kind-hearted man you would want to meet," his son said. "He was an incredible father."

Seymour liked to surprise his nephews and nieces with unusual gifts, which he would discover at garage sales and antique shops. He never spent much money for them, but they proved to the kids that Uncle Seymour would take the time to find them something special. He was the "favorite uncle."

Seymour was popular with all young people."He was like a dad to my buddies," Lucas said. "He would take us places. They liked to be with him."

Seymour was also popular with his neighbors. He would shovel snow for them and sweep their sidewalks.

"He was always very generous with his time and energy," his son said.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by two brothers, his twin, Irving, and Raymond Rotman, and a sister, Irma Alexander.

Seymour donated his body to science. A memorial get-together will be planned later. *