BUTTONS OF INSPIRATION
STUDYING AMINAH ROBINSON
“Can you tell me about your drawing?” I asked each student in the Chickadee class. They were sifting through bowls of buttons trying to decide which ones would be best to line their pictures. Bottles of glue, and bowls with glue brushes, sat between the pairs of students, who worked purposefully on plastic cloth mats on the floor.
“Mine is my family making a quilt,” said one.
“This is my family going camping,” said another.
“Those are the deer in our neighborhood.”
The object of the drawings was to portray something their family did together and something about their neighborhood… an homage to their communities. These would be lined with buttons, attached to fabric, and laid out in a line to create something like a long thin quilt.
Something similar to a “RagGonNon,” a type of textile work of family and ancestral history made by the artist Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson.
Michelle, the early childhood ROCS educator had seen Aminah’s work on a ROCS school field trip to the King Arts Complex and been inspired. “The 2 and 5 day Chickadees are weaving in our theme about communities and culture with black history month to learn about an amazing, prolific artist from Columbus.”
Aminah Robinson has permanent exhibits both at the King’s Art Complex and at the Columbus Museum of Art. In the atrium of the Main Branch Columbus Metropolitan Library there is a staircase featuring one of her murals, as well as other works on display. Her home on Sunbury Road in Columbus is a cultural treasure restored by Columbus Museum of Art to preserve her work and spirit and to support black artists in residence. The King Arts Complex has an annual Aminah Day each February for families to celebrate and honor her.
So, when Michelle asked if I had heard of Aminah Robinson, I was embarrassed to say that I had not. And when to further be asked to write a blog about her, it was imperative to me, that I dig in deep if I were to do any justice to her.
The truth is that I did begin to recognize her work once seeing it. There’s a great website by CMA where can you explore her life and art called Aminah’s World , and it was there that I recognized her wide range of mediums and art forms. She did sculptures, carvings, drawings, writings, textiles, and much, much more. Her house, (you can see a video about it here) was a wonder of art and life where she made, and slept, and made more. As she says in one video, “I am a hard worker, I work all the time. And I love it.” The sheer amount of work that just in her home shows it.
Aminah used all sorts of materials in her art, weaving them in an out and over each other in layers of storytelling uniquely her own. When the Chickadee’s were shown pictures of her work in class, they were able to spot some of her themes.
“Lots of colors!”
She used such an array of materials to make her work. In one piece, I can spot a patterned men’s tie sewn into the corner. In another, music boxes with the turn keys sticking out. People would bring her items and she would find a way to incorporate them. Sometimes it took days, sometimes years, but she just kept on making.
Aminah’s work doesn’t just grab you visually though, it grabs you viscerally. There is a story you are being told, and one you are being asked to continue. A quote from the Aminah’s World website:
Aminah is celebrated, loved, and honored for her contributions to history and for filling gaps in African American History. She saw so much, and saw it so deeply, that her visions have become legendary.
There are books by Aminah, illustrated by Aminah, about Aminah, and about Aminah’s work. Some were on display in the Chickadee’s room. One of them, a book that had been in the works before her death in 2015, was a children’s picture book ( similarly titled Aminah’s World by Carole Miller Genshaft) inspiring children to write their own stories while learning about Aminah’s history and art.
By the end of my short but deep dive into Aminah Robinson’s work, I was filled with so much gratitude. Gratitude that my kids were getting to learn about such an amazing person and artist, and gratitude that I, myself, was being properly introduced to such an inspiration. I strongly encourage you to check out her work if you haven’t, read about her if you don’t know about her, and to be inspired in whatever way you find yourself in the presence of her work.
– Celeste Irving, ROCS mom
Further links to get started:
An NPR article celebrating Aminah and her art.
The Columbus Dispatch: Book review | Aminah’s World: Book keeps artist’s hopes for children at forefront