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Classical 101

2022 Aminah Robinson Fellow Richard Duarte Brown Creates Family Through Art

Richard Duarte Brown paints in Aminah Robinson's former studio
Jennifer Hambrick
Richard Duarte Brown paints in Aminah Robinson's former studio.

When Columbus mixed-media artist Richard Duarte Brown met fellow artist Aminah Robinson, he had all the jitters that come with meeting a legend.

“I came to Aminah’s house back in ‘91, and I got to meet her son, Sydney. And when I met Sydney, I was so starstruck that I asked him, ‘What do you think about your mother being an artist?’” Brown said. “When I left, I thought, I should have asked he what does he dream? What is he about? And so that stuck with me all these years. And then I found out that he died young.”

Aminah Robinson died in 2015, 11 years after receiving the MacArthur “Genius Grant” for folk artists. Her artwork and her former home and studio on Sunbury Road are today hallowed as some of Columbus’ richest cultural treasures.

Now, as the recipient of the 2022 Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson Fellowship from the Greater Columbus Arts Council and the Columbus Museum of Art, Brown has the opportunity to work in Robinson’s former home and studio for the next three months.

Spending time in that space has made Brown reflect on that fateful first encounter with Aminah and Sydney Robinson. Fueled by his poignant memory of meeting Sydney Robinson and the powerful influence of Aminah Robinson’s artwork, Brown says he will devote his fellowship period to creating new work that forges connections with Aminah and her son.

For Brown, who says he never knew his father, those connections are nothing short of family.

“For me, family’s the thing that we all need,” Brown said. “When I’m making art, I’m creating family. It’s how I connect and how I keep the family stories and tell the family stories.”

Aminah Robinson’s former home and studio are full of stories and connections. The voices of Robinson’s friends and fellow artists resound in handwritten notes on the walls throughout the house. A bench in the front entryway is a vibrant chronicle of Columbus’ Poindexter Village, the neighborhood where Robinson grew up. The kitchen cabinets burst with Robinson’s bold line paintings of larger-than-life faces. The mosaic kitchen floor is a rainbow of ceramic tiles, shells, buttons and other “found” objects.

Brown says he’ll pay homage to Robinson’s artistic style and legacy during his fellowship period by creating work from many types of materials, including gourds, fabric, yarn and paint. But in the end, he says he aims for all of his new works to fulfill a higher calling.

“My assignment is really to comfort humanity. And to comfort humanity is to be human, to have hope,” Brown said. “And so, every piece is laced with hope, is laced with comfort, is laced with my desire to touch and bring family to the table.”

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.