Robert Aronson’s two passions couldn’t be more different. One consists of him being alone in a studio. The other has him surrounded by people, helping them build their lasting legacy. Aronson wouldn’t give either up for anything.
“Those both speak to two different parts of me, and I don’t think they really relate to each other, but they are both parts of me that I need,” he said of his love for printmaking and philanthropy. “If I can do those two things, I’ll be a happy man.”
His love of printmaking was on display this summer at Galerie Camille in Detroit through his exhibition, “Landscape as Portrait.” It was his first one-man show ever and displayed works from his entire career – spanning over five decades – and included his serigraphs, lithographs, collagraphs, monotypes, and intaglio prints. He describes his pieces as “landscapes of memory,” meaning he uses his own memory to create etchings of landscapes, often adding human elements to them.
“It was kind of an overwhelming experience to see a lot of my work going back to the time I was 16 through the age of 66 in one place,” he said.
It was a pretty amazing moment for Aronson, who has already been asked to do another show next year at the gallery.
As for his other love, philanthropy, he’s been doing that for decades as well, but now it’s his full-time job at the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, where he serves as their chief development advisor, after 20 years as the CEO. Aronson views his work as giving people an opportunity to do a mitzvah, a very high accomplishment in the Jewish tradition meaning to do a good deed.
He does this in his hectic day, meeting with donors and potential donors.
“I really work with them on creating their own legacies for the community. What it is they want to leave behind or create in this community?” he said. “Whether it be for Jewish education, or children with special needs or the elderly, whatever it is they have a special interest in I help them kind of craft a legacy for the future.”
And getting to do it in Detroit is pretty special, as well. Aronson said it’s a very multi-generational Jewish community and is known for its special history of great leadership.
He noted that Detroit is the 26th largest Jewish community in America, but the fourth largest Jewish community in America in terms of fundraising. “That paints the picture of the kind of community Detroit is,” he said.
He’s also played a pretty large part in that and gotten to know many in the Detroit community. Now, he gets to see the legacies of those he’s advised continue.
Recently, he was at the opening of the Applebaum family office in Birmingham. There he got to watch Eugene Applebaum's daughter speak about the foundation she had created in honor of her late father. It was a pretty special moment for Aronson.
His work and art have taken Aronson all over the world. Much like his two passions though, he wouldn’t give up his current location of Bloomfield Hills – where he’s lived the last 18 years – for anything.
“I’ve lived in Manhattan, I’ve lived in Israel, I’ve lived in other places around the world and for me, it’s just home,” he said.
Photo: Laurie Tennent