It was the third week in January, and artist Marsha Levin-Rojer was excited to be returning to her studio, where she hadn’t been since the unexpected passing of her husband, Charles Rojer, in November. Yet Charles is still with her, she freely admits. She is surrounded by sculpture the otolaryngologist made when he took classes at the Abington Art Center. A ceramic woman’s head, black as onyx, sits on a spiral wooden pedestal. “He gave it to me for my birthday when we were dating. The only reason he married me,” she joked, “was because he wanted the sculpture back.”
The couple’s last trip together was in summer 2015, to Maine, when Rojer was in good health (the cancer that took his life came on suddenly). As he drove, Levin-Rojer sat in the passenger seat, cutting up paper for her suspended mandalas and putting the finishing touches on sculpture that was the visual centerpiece for Princeton University Concerts 2015-2016 PUC125 series concerts. Performed in the round on the Richardson Auditorium stage, enabling audience members to interact with performers, the series seeks to re-imagine the classics, and Levin-Rojer’s installations commissioned exclusively for the series is a part of that. The next concerts in the series are Ebene String Quartet, Wednesday, March 9, 6 and 9 p.m.; Escher String Quartet, Thursday, March 24, 6 and 9 p.m.; and Julien Labro, Accordion/Bandoneon/Accordina, Thursday, April 14, 6 and 9 p.m. www.princetonuniversityconcerts.org/concerts#puc125
“I have often marveled at the realization that sound waves, both invisible and ephemeral, form the basis of music,” said Levin-Rojer. “And as one who draws, I tend to see the world through line: lines on a page, lines moving through space, lines suggested but not defined. In music, lines are everywhere: sound waves, energy, melodies, voices—all inspire potential drawings.”
Her series for PUC125 is titled “The Musical Line.” “I create my lines with pencil, tape, wire, and with scissors. The common element is always line,” she said. “For me they are all drawings: sometimes on the page, sometimes in space.”
The first piece, “Rondo,” is made of aluminum wire shaped to represent the movement of sound waves in air. The second, “Chrysalis,” is made from 100 metallic Mylar cutouts suspended on monofilament. The final, “Counterpoint,” is formed from 20,000 glass beads threaded on steel wire and twisted. “Each has been designed to catch the light, the energy and the magic of music,” said Levin-Rojer.
Suspended above the performers, the shimmering forms are variations on the mandala, a theme that has intrigued Levin-Rojer for years. With their mysterious shadows and light, they bend and flutter in the movement of air.
“It’s like drawing with scissors,” she said. “First you make an outline, then you go in and create shapes.”
While cutting up paper, she listens to music, although it may not be the music that is performed during the series at Richardson. The work is meditative, like knitting, which she also does. “But this is more relaxing. The Mylar moves like fabric.”
Levin-Rojer had two months in which to complete the work—including stringing the aforementioned 20,000 beads. “It took forever,” she said calmly. Even when she had to restring the Mylar three times to change the weight so it wouldn’t tangle, she remained calm. “I love the Mylar so I wanted to do one all clear, suspended in space, so it would flicker with magical sparkle and capture the energy of the music.”
The artist had a steel grid fabricated in sheet metal, from which the monofilament is attached. Japanese bobbins hold it all in place until the lines are dropped. Levin-Rojer did Pilates so she wouldn’t injure herself going up the ladder to suspend the works. In her studio she tested the design so that the facilities manager at Richardson can easily hang the work from the sound baffle.
As a child growing up in Lower Merion, Pa, Marsha exhibited an aptitude for drawing, and in high school majored in art. Then, in college, she was driven to pursue a field that might lead to a secure career and majored in mathematics. After graduation from Temple University, she worked in medical research, making mathematical models of the heart. When it was discovered that she could draw, she was asked to illustrate a book on cardiovascular physiology.
After a divorce, Levin-Rojer worked as a systems analyst for Deloitte & Touche, but 10 years later, after her second marriage at the age of 50, she fulfilled a promise to herself to return to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, where she’d taken classes during high school summers.
“Some of my instructors would have been in the class I’d been in, had I gone there directly from high school,” said Levin-Rojer, who went on to become artist in residence and exhibitions committee chair at the former Montgomery Center for the Arts, chair of the Arts Council of Princeton exhibitions committee and a member of both the Princeton Artists Alliance and MOVIS exhibition groups.
In order to summon emotion for abstraction, she would allow drawing to evolve while listening to, say, Rachmaninoff or Beethoven or jazz. “There’s something about music—when you listen it sounds concrete, but it’s ephemeral. Going back to mathematics, I thought of the melody as linear, and the two lines intersecting to form a plane is the harmony. The intersection of planes forms the landscape, and music infuses landscape.”