In memoriam: Aminah Robinson, CCAD alumna and artistic legend

Born in Columbus in 1940, Robinson grew up certain that she would be an artist. Her artistic development began at the age of three under her father’s guidance. In 1955, she began taking Saturday Morning Art Classes at CCAD (then The Columbus Art School), then formally enrolled as an undergraduate in 1957. Later in 1991, she was given an honorary master’s degree by the previous President, Joseph V. Canzani.

“Aminah Robinson was the epitome of the driven artist. Frequently — and erroneously — mistaken for a folk or outsider artist, she was in fact formally trained, shrewd and keenly aware of how her work activated responses in people, and where it lay against the pantheon of the art of her times,” said Denny Griffith, former President at CCAD.

In a 2011 interview with CCAD, Robinson attributed her renowned work ethic to her time at the college, and in her second-year as a student she began work on a form called RagGonNons, which became her signature form. RagGonNons are complex works based in fabric, but incorporating other media, and continue to evolve over the years. Robinson’s RagGonNons have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States and she has received numerous awards and grants from arts organizations in support of her creations.

In 2002, the Columbus Museum of Art organized a retrospective exhibition of Robinson’s work that traveled throughout the country. In 2004, she was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, an award reserved for “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”

“It was a privilege to be part of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s life and to watch her growth as an artist. Aminah’s legacy will be one of enriching our community, our museum and our world,” said Nannette V. Maciejunes, Executive Director at the Columbus Museum of Art. “In 2004, I had the pleasure of traveling to Santiago, Chile with Aminah for her exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes that was organized by the Ohio Arts Council. She was standing in a gallery when a Chilean woman walked up to her with tears in her eyes because she’d been so moved by Aminah’s work. The woman looked at us and said, ’I understand, we have Pablo Neruda, and you have Aminah.’ At that moment I realized how Aminah’s body of work transcends the particular stories of Columbus and resonates with communities everywhere.”

Her work is also in many private collections and in several museums including the Columbus Museum of Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Tacoma Art Museum and the Newark Museum.

“She was an avid historian and her drive was fed by both her world travels and the tapestry of stories that arose from her neighborhood on the east side of Columbus: The Blackberry Patch, Poindexter Village, Mt. Vernon Avenue,” said Griffith. “It was routine for her to work 18 hours a day, subsisting for years on coffee, cigarettes and a piece of fruit. Her entire house was her studio, and a visit was an experience of pure wonder bordering on disbelief for the work was seemingly neck-deep in just about every cranny of the place.”

It was also during her 2011 interview, Aminah imparted pertinent advice to current CCAD students, which captured her warm spirit.

“Just never give up,” said Robinson. “Work very hard. It can be difficult, but even with the storms, and the sun, and the rain, the work continues. Even when no one understands you for years. It is not a career. It is not something to make money with. It’s about endearing one’s community with the light God has given you.”

And endear her community she did. Robinson was nationally acclaimed for her profound artistry, her storytelling abilities, her deep understanding of history, and her utter conviction that individuals and institutions are interwoven communities. She is very much beloved by the Columbus and CCAD community.

“She lived to work, and didn’t venture out much. Her family and her friends were stitched, drawn, painted and sculpted into everything … so in many ways she was surrounded by these people all day, every day,” said Griffith. “She was one in a million and I loved her.”

A celebration of life for Aminah Robinson will take place on July 18, 2015 at the Columbus Museum of Art. The time will be announced later.

CCAD is grateful to Robinson for establishing the Aminah Robinson Endowed Scholarship Fund. Her restricted gift will award scholarship funds annually to students entering their final year of study and who exhibit superior talent and dedication in their chosen practice.

“Aminah Robinson’s impact on the arts community has been profound, and through her planned generosity that impact will continue,” said Kevin Conlon, Provost and Interim President at CCAD. “She has set a fine example for all of us to follow by ensuring that creativity and education will be supported through her financial gift, and the fund in her name will honor her memory in perpetuity. We are humbled and grateful that she remained so steadfastly committed to CCAD and we want to celebrate that commitment by accepting donations to the scholarship that will bear her name.”

Those who wish to contribute to this fund in memory of Aminah Robinson may make a restricted gift to her Endowment Fund, or by mailing a check to CCAD, Development Office, 60 Cleveland Ave., Columbus OH 43215. Please note “Aminah Robinson Endowed Scholarship Fund” in the memo or on accompanying correspondence. Questions may be directed to (614) 222-6181.