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Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson (1940-) Biography

Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights

Born 1940, in Columbus, OH; Education: Attended Columbus College of Art and Design.


Agent—c/o Columbus Museum of Art, 480 East Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215.


Ohio Public Library, Columbus, assistant librarian, 1958-64; Mountain States Telephone Company, Boise, ID, draftsperson, 1964-66; illustrator at television station in Mississippi, 1966-67; North American Rockwell Corporation, Columbus, senior illustrator, 1968; City Recreation and Parks Department, Columbus, arts specialist, 1972-91. Lecturer and visiting artist; freelance artist. Exhibitions: Work exhibited at numerous institutions, including Main Library, Ohio University, 1979; Pan American Institute, Kent State University, 1982; Collectors Gallery, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH, 1983, 1990, and 2003-04; Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH; Esther Saks Gallery, Chicago, IL, 1984; Kathryn Markel Gallery, New York, NY, 1985; Jamaica Arts Center, Jamaica, 1993; Columbus Foundation, Columbus, 1993; and Performing Arts Center, Springfield, OH, 1993.

Honors Awards

Outstanding Citizen in the Community, National Epicureans, 1974; Kumba Black Liberation Award, 1978; travel grant, Art for Community Expression, 1979; Aid to Individual Artist fellowships, Ohio Arts Council, 1979-80, 1986-87, 1988-89; named Columbus Star, 1980, for outstanding service to the quality of life in Columbus, OH; Governor's Award for Visual Arts in Ohio, 1984; Salute to Black Women Award, Eta Phi Beta, 1984; Certificate of Appreciation, Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Performing Arts, 1989; National Jewish Book Award, 1993, for Elijah's Angel; honorary degree from Columbus College of Art and Design, 1991, and Ohio Dominican University, 2002; MacArthur fellow, 2004.



The Teachings: Drawn from African-American Spirituals, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1992.

A School for Pompey Walker, Harcourt Brace Children's Books (San Diego, CA), 1995.

A Street Called Home, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1997.


Michael J. Rosen, Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich (San Diego, CA), 1992.

Mem Fox, Sophie, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1994.

Evelyn Coleman, To Be a Drum, Albert Whitman & Company (Morton Grove, IL), 1998.

Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert, The Shaking Bag, Albert Whitman (Morton Grove, IL), 2000.


Symphonic Poem: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Columbus Museum of Art/Harry N. Abrams (Columbus, OH), 2002.

Contributor to journals, including Ohio magazine, Chicago Tribune, Columbus Homes and Lifestyles, and Artspace.


Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson is an accomplished artist who has exhibited her work widely in her native Ohio and other parts of the United States. Her works are considered to be "folk art." Robinson's paintings often burst into the third dimension with the addition of objects such as buttons, beads, yarn, seashells, and twigs; some of these collages have reached twenty feet or more in length. She also frequently creates her own dyes to color the pieces of fabric and paper used in her works. In addition to mixed-media pieces, Robinson has created sculptures, quilts, puppets, music boxes, and other forms of art, and for many years she taught children how to express themselves creatively through the Columbus, Ohio Parks and Recreation Department.

In 1992 she illustrated her first book, Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas, by Michael J. Rosen. Elijah's Angel is a story about the friendship that forms between Michael, a Jewish boy, and Elijah, an elderly Christian man. The story turns on the conflict within Michael when Elijah gives the boy an angel the man has carved from wood. Michael fears that having a Christian angel in a Jewish home is a desecration, until his parents reassure him that angels are for everyone.

Ari L. Goldman noted in the New York Times Book Review that often stories attempting to resolve Christian and Jewish differences fail to ring true. However, he called Elijah's Angel a "finely done" book and attributed the effectiveness of the book to its basis on a real-life barber and woodcarver in the Columbus, Ohio neighborhood where the artist and author once lived. While a Publishers Weekly reviewer found Robinson's illustrations geared more to adult tastes, Ilene Cooper, reviewing Elijah's Angel for Booklist, remarked that "the naive-style paintings, done in house paint on scrap rags, boldly simulate woodcuts, and though the artwork is not pretty, it … has the feel of reality. In a time of so much dissension, stories like this one … are hopeful guideposts to the way people can live together."

Robinson also provided the illustrations for Sophie, by Mem Fox. The simply worded book tells of the close, life-long bond between Sophie and her Grandpa. The book begins with Sophie's birth and follows as she and Grandpa grow older together. By the time Sophie becomes an adult her grandfather has grown frail, and it is her turn to take care of him. Then Grandpa dies and there is "just emptiness and sadness for a while," until Sophie's daughter is born and life goes on. As in Elijah's Angel, Robinson's paintings for Sophie are "in an almost aggressively naive style," thought a Publishers Weekly critic, but they frequently "offer up a wealth of verve and emotion" nonetheless. Booklist reviewer Janice Del Negro also thought that Robinson's illustrations serve as a fitting complement to the text; as the critic noted, an "all-encompassing warmth … spills from the paintings."

Robinson has been a lifelong resident of the city of Columbus, Ohio, and she celebrated that city in her self-illustrated title A Street Called Home. Set on Mt. Vernon Avenue in Poindexter Village, the African-American neighborhood where Robinson was raised, the book introduces the reader to the many colorful characters who called that street home during the 1940s. Mt. Vernon Avenue boasted many thriving businesses at that time—a necessity during the era of segregation when African Americans could not easily patronize many white-owned establishments. The featured entrepreneurs include the Sockman, who washes and darns old socks, vendors selling pork rinds and fried chicken feet, and a medicine-man who sells herbal remedies made of peach leaves and asafetida (a resin made from plant roots). But A Street Called Home's main attraction, most critics agreed, is Robinson's artwork. The book is bound accordion-style, and readers can stretch out the pages to view Robinson's color-drenched mixed-media illustration of the entire street as one huge spread. It is "a treat for the eye," Ilene Cooper declared in Booklist, and School Library Journal contributor Karen Breen noted that Robinson's "streetscape … is so filled with detail that it will take many sittings to take it all in."

For To Be a Drum, by Evelyn Coleman, Robinson created "bold, mixed-media illustrations [that] offer a fresh perspective and new components on virtually every spread," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Coleman's rhythmic text for the book tells of the heartbeat of the world, which is carried on by the drumming of people's lives. As Daddy Wes describes to the children Mat and Martha, throughout their history African Americans have beaten out the rhythm of life by singing, becoming inventors, and fighting for civil rights, among other things. Reflecting this theme, Robinson creates illustrations that were described by Skipping Stones contributor Paulette Ansari as "a mosaic of people, color, texture, strength, and emotions" and by Booklist reviewer Carolyn Phelan as "a vibrant, eclectic series of scenes."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Fox, Mem, Sophie, illustrated by Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson, Harcourt Brace (San Diego, CA), 1994.


Booklist, August, 1992, Ilene Cooper, review of Elijah's Angel: A Story for Chanukah and Christmas, p. 2013; Artist Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson has contributed her unique illustrations to a number of children's books, including Evelyn Coleman's To Be a Drum, published in 1998. October 1, 1994, Janice Del Negro, review of Sophie, p. 332; December 15, 1997, Ilene Cooper, review of A Street Called Home, p. 700; February 15, 1998, Carolyn Phelan, review of To Be a Drum, p. 1019; April 1, 2000, Shelley Townsend-Hudson, review of The Shaking Bag, p. 1466.

New York Times Book Review, December 13, 1992, Ari L. Goldman, review of Elijah's Angel, p. 35.

Publishers Weekly, September 7, 1992, review of Elijah's Angel, p. 62; October 10, 1994, review of Sophie, p. 70; March 23, 1998, review of To Be a Drum, p. 99.

School Library Journal, February, 1998, Karen Breen, review of A Street Called Home, p. 104.

Skipping Stones, May-August, 2000, Paulette Ansari, review of To Be a Drum, p. 9.


Fisher College of Business Web site, http://fisher.osu.edu/ (April 2, 2005), "Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson."

MacArthur Foundation Web site, http://www.www.macfdn.org/ (April 2, 2005), "Aminah Robinson."*

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