Major Laguna Sculptor Dies


By Bolton Colburn, Special to the Independent

Rothman in his Laguna studio.
Rothman in his Laguna studio.

Long-time Laguna Beach resident and ceramic sculptor Jerry Rothman died Thursday, June 5, of a heart attack at a hospital near his sculpture park and home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. During the last few years of his life Rothman was unable to work due to the effects of Lewy Body disease.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1933 to Rose and Hyman Rothman.

Rothman created his first sculpture garden on the grounds of his Laguna Beach studio in the 1980s. The land formed a shallow canyon that sloped upwards, away from the buildings, with a grove of eucalyptus trees on either side. He designed terraces on the hill on which sculptures were strategically placed. He laid out pathways so that visitors could stroll the grounds and experience each large-scale piece individually.

Rothman attended Otis Art Institute beginning in 1956, where he came under the influence of Peter Voulkos and developed lasting friendships with fellow ceramic students Paul Soldner, Michael Frimkess, John Mason, Henry Takemoto, Karen Neubert, and Sue Dakin. Ed Keinholz organized Rothman’s first group exhibition, “Clay Forms: Soldner—Mason—Rothman,” at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1957.


The young Rothman at work.
The young Rothman at work.

After working in Japan designing ceramics for export to the United States from 1958-60, Rothman returned to Los Angeles, completed his master’s degree at the Otis Art Institute in 1962, and proceeded to develop a series of large-scale figurative sculpture.

Rothman was head of the ceramics department at the University of Iowa before becoming head of the ceramics department at California State University, Fullerton in 1971, retiring in 1996. He is credited with inventing non-shrinking clay and developing new ways of fusing clay and metal in order to create large-scale sculptural forms.

From 2006-2011 Rothman built his final signature work, an arts complex consisting of a studio/home and a sculpture garden in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The Jerry Rothman San Miguel de Allende Sculpture Park consists of an array of 15 sculptures installed on a two-acre site, which is anchored by a studio/living space designed and built by the artist.

Rothman was in  numerous exhibitions including solo shows at the Pasadena Art Museum (1961); the Garth Clark Gallery, New York (1976) and Los Angeles (1982); and a retrospective at the Laguna Art Museum (2003). He participated in over a 100 group exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Rothman is survived by his partner, Kathleen Cummings; Kathleen’s daughter, Anne, and son-in-law Chanler Sparler; grandchildren Joshua, Madsen, and Kaela; ex-wife Janette Heartwood; and nieces and nephews Theresa Stenwall, Andrea Rothman, Murray Rothman and Kenneth Rothman.

Plans for a celebration of Rothman and his life will be released at a later date; for information please email [email protected].

In order to preserve Rothman’s sculpture for the future, donations may be sent in his name to Laguna Art Museum, which cares for the largest collection of his work at a public institution.

*For the most complete account of Rothman’s art and life up to 2003 see the exhibition publication “Feat of Clay: Five Decades of Jerry Rothman,” Laguna Art Museum. For information about Rothman’s San Miguel de Allende Sculpture Park see the website

Bolton Colburn is a former executive director of the Laguna Art Museum.

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