The story behind a rarely seen painting from Columbus artist Aminah Robinson
“Gift of Life,” a rarely seen painting by the late Columbus artist Aminah Robinson, has found a temporary home in the Lincoln Theatre for the next five years. Here's the story behind the 10-by-4-foot piece, a tale that touches upon Robinson's unique artistic vision and the challenges she overcame to become one of the city's most beloved artists.
A Generous Soul
The painting was a gift from Robinson to Jean Rayford, a Columbus nurse who took care of Robinson's son, Sydney. Like lots of Robinson's friends, Rayford and her husband, Elwood, received many gifts from the artist, whose generous streak continued even as her work became more valuable.
The Fabric of Life
Robinson painted “Gift of Life” on cloth in 1980, like many pieces from that point in her career. The reason? The material was cheap. Money was tight for Robinson for much of her career, and she couldn't afford better supplies.
Hammond Harkins Galleries owner Marlana Hammond Keynes couldn't put a price tag on “Gift of Life,” but the owner of Robinson's longtime gallery says individual pieces are valued at up to $150,000 these days as Robinson's reputation has grown.
With These Hands
The three figures in “Gift of Life” have oversized hands, a common theme in Robinson's work. “Your hands are really important,” Robinson once told a child who asked about the trademark characteristic. “You use them to eat and to pray and to work and to talk and to touch.”
Like so much of her work, “Gift of Life” has a connection to her son, a talented artist in his own right, who struggled with depression. “He was the love her life, really,” says Carole Genshaft, Columbus Museum of Art curator-at-large. Sydney died by suicide in 1994 at the age of 27.
Robinson recovered from her son's death by devoting herself even more to her art and memorializing him in her work. When Robinson died in 2015, Sydney was on her mind, Keynes recalls. Asked if she wanted a procedure that could prolong her life, Robinson replied, “No, I want to be with Sydney.”