John N. Robinson Collection consists of objects created or collected by artist John N. Robinson during the 20th century. The artwork includes two oil paintings – “Reading the Bible (Maude Jones)” and “Here, Look at Mine!” – and a print of “Pete.” “Here, Look at Mine!” depicts Robinson’s grandchildren. The collection also includes forty-three paintbrushes which belonged to artists Alma Thomas, Sam Gilliam, Malkia Roberts, Martha Jackson-Jarvis, and Yvonne Pickering Carter.
Related archival collection: Two signed reproductions of John Robinson's original artwork "Pete" and "Winter Scene." Inscriptions read: "To friend Mr. John Kinard." Contact the Archivist for more information.
First and foremost, John N. Robinson considered himself an artist. Born on February 18, 1912 in Georgetown, Robinson was raised by his grandparents in northwest Washington, D.C. after his mother passed away when he was eight years old and his father disappeared. Robinson quit school to help support his family; he worked as a golf caddy at country clubs and dusted cars at a parking garage. A chauffeur at the garage noticed Robinson’s drawings on scraps of paper and brought the drawings to the attention of James V. Herring, the head of Howard University’s art department. Herring offered Robinson an opportunity to study under James A. Porter. The classes at Howard transformed his interest in art into a passion. Robinson’s short time at Howard was the extent of his formal artistic training.
When Robinson and his grandparents moved to Anacostia in southeast Washington, D.C. in 1929, he began to paint in earnest. Robinson’s paintings reflect everyday life – his home, his family, and his neighborhood. In addition to intimate scenes of family and community life, he completed large scale works including a church mural, Christ at Gethsemane, at Emmanuel Baptist Church. During the 1940s, Robinson exhibited his work and created minute sketches of people at Lafayette and Franklin Parks. He also met artists Pietro Lazzari, Jack Perlmutter, and Jacob Kainen, who got his work into shows at the Corcoran Gallery of Art long before African Americans were welcomed there.
In 1934, he married Gladys. The couple had seven children. To pay the bills, Robinson worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), at the Navy Yard, and eventually at St. Elizabeths Hospital, where he worked in the kitchen for thirty-four years.
The print of “Pete” was donated by John Kinard, the director of the Anacostia Museum from 1967-1989. The painting, “Reading the Bible (Maude Jones),” was donated by the corporation, Sallie Mae. The artists’ paintbrushes were donated by the John N. Robinson.
Corcoran Gallery of Art, and John N. Robinson. 1976. John Robinson: a retrospective. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Robinson, John N., and Grant E. Samuelson. 1993. John N. Robinson, JNR: September 17-November 20, 1993, Washington Project for the Arts, Washington, D.C. Washington, DC: Washington Project for the Arts.
Robinson, John. 1976. The Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, Smithsonian Institution, in cooperation with the Corcoran Gallery of Art presents John Robinson: a retrospective : June 18 through July 30, 1976 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
John Robinson art reproductions. Anacostia Community Museum Archives, Smithsonian Institution.
African American artists
Human beings in art
Permanent Collection, Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum