Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
Isabel Robinson (1894-1976): Show Me West Texas
Beginning December 11, 1999, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum will exhibit works by artist Isabel Robinson (1894-1976), who taught at West Texas State Teachers College (now West Texas A&M University) from 1927 to 1960. The exhibition, Isabel Robinson: Show Me West Texas, will include some fifty watercolors (Robinson's favorite medium), oils, drawings, and prints drawn from the Museum's holdings and numerous private collections. The exhibition will also have a section devoted to paintings by Robinson students who became artists and her artist-companions.
Born at the family's Eagle Ranch in western Adair County, Missouri, Robinson studied at Northeastern Missouri Teachers College at Kirksville and later at the University of Missouri. She continued her art studies throughout her life, but received a master's degree from Teachers College at Columbia in 1925. Robinson also studied at Boothbay Harbor, Maine; Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles; Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; Cranbrook Art Academy, Michigan; and the Chouinard School of Art, California.
Robinson taught public school in Missouri before teaching interior design at Guilford College, North Carolina, and at Columbia, and art at Ohio University at Athens. She became interim head of the art department at West Texas State Teachers College in 1925, then art department head at Pennsylvania State Teachers College at Bloomburg in 1926. Robinson returned to West Texas State and taught in the art department from 1927 until 1960. She returned to Kirksville, in 1974, dying there two years later.
Robinson was a member of the Southern States Art League and the College Art Association and numerous art, art education, and wildlife organizations, She was listed in Who's Who in the Southwest, Women of Distinction of America, and Leading Women of America. Robinson exhibited in group exhibitions at the Southern States Art League; Radio City Music Hall, New York; Texas Centennial Exposition, 1936, Dallas; Tri-State Fair, Amarillo; Annual Texas Artists Exhibition, Fort Worth; Texas General; the Annual Texas Print Exhibition; and the West Texas Art Exhibition at Fort Worth (which she helped create in 1939). She had solo exhibitions at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (1934), Michigan State College (now Michigan State University) and the University of Alabama.
When Robinson arrived at West Texas State Teachers College in 1927, the department which would become the art department during her leadership had six heads in seventeen years (including Georgia O'Keeffe from 1916 to 1918). Robinson headed the department until 1955 when she stepped down to simply teach. In addition to her impact on budding artists, Robinson also organized a regional art exhibition, beginning in 1934.
In 1936, Robinson created the Palo Duro School of Art. Held in Palo Duro Canyon under the auspices of West Texas State, the twelve-week college-credit school, lasted for six consecutive summers through 1941. Unfortunately, after the War the PDSA was not resurrected. Students lived in a tent village, with community kitchen and showers, and meals were often held at Coronado Lodge on the rim of the Canyon. In addition to herself, Robinson brought in visiting artists to teach courses in the Canyon. The school concluded every summer with a field trip to Taos and Santa Fe.
No artist or art teacher, before or since, had a greater impact on students and artists in the Texas Panhandle than Isabel Robinson. With a tenure approaching 35 years, she nurtured creativity on numerous fronts and levels, not only with her own art work, but through other art endeavors she brought to Panhandle residents. The exhibition, which will remain at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum through March 13, 2000, is a tribute to her contributions to the region.
Images from top to bottom: Isabel Robinson in Palo Duro Canyon, c. 1937, photo courtesy of Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum; Isabel Robinson, Farm House, n.d., watercolor on paper, 11 x 15 inches; Isabel Robinson, West Texas State College, n.d., watercolor on paper, 11 1/8 x 14 3/4 inches; Isabel Robinson, Windmill and Cattle, 1927, watercolor on paper, 9 x 11 15/16 inches
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For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
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This page was originally published in 1999 in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information.
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