by Lou Mancinelli
Every summer, one week at a time at her home in Wyndmoor, award-winning artist and gardener Lucretia Robbins, 73, blends the art forms of horticulture and painting with a third love of hers, teaching.
Called “Art in the Garden,” the program is a one-week workshop for girls 6 and up that meets Monday through Fridays in the morning at three different points throughout the summer. That way if girls attend more than one session, they can observe and paint the garden in different states of bloom each month.
If there is a quality place for a young child or teenager to learn how to capture color and shape in an ordered place, it is in a garden. There the girls are focused, without their eyes wandering across landscapes, as they might be if they were out in a field or by the river along Kelly Drive.
The day starts with a demonstration, and every day girls work in a different medium: watercolor, color-pencil or maybe ink. Many of them return each year, some with little sisters who follow a few years later.
There’s also the benefit of being out in nature, a part of life Robbins fears may be disappearing among youths today. Robbins wants to enliven a sense of exploration and wonder with the natural world in the girls, awaken a sense of curiosity about what’s around.
“I can appreciate the technology of today, but I think it’s really crucial the younger generation stays in touch with what’s natural,” Robbins said.
One of the first things girls do at Art in the Garden is go on a scavenger hunt through the garden, searching for different leaves and shades of green. It will be an early lesson for the girls in the fun of creating one’s own garden, and of how to look carefully.
Robbins wants to share and instill “a love of being able to express themselves in tangible ways.” The girls learn to paint, draw, how to use color. More, they make friends and form experiences that lay a foundation for a lifetime of perceiving the world.
Raised on the 25-acre Peace Valley Farm in Bucks County, Robbins grew up among fresh strawberries and asparagus and was surrounded by chickens and cows. By 9 she was riding a horse and learning to paint and draw. She found her first inspiration in an old maple tree.
Robbins was never formally trained as an artist but learned as an adult. In 1981 she graduated from Arcadia University (then Beaver College) with a degree in printmaking. She worked in a gallery and in her early 20s much of her art life was spent working off human models. She started exhibiting her work in the mid-‘80s: a show in Chicago, Oklahoma, a few times at the MUSE Gallery back in Philadelphia. Another in New York, and one in San Diego.
Then in the late ‘80s a friend who worked at Springside School (now Springside Chestnut Hill Academy) needed help. Robbins taught a few classes as a visiting artist in 1989. She stayed for 11 years, becoming the school’s art teacher. She also received a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts/Artist in Residence grant.
When she retired before the turn of the century, Robbins started exhibiting again, showing at places like Rosenfeld Gallery in Old City. Meanwhile, a friend suggested that a few local girls needed art lessons. As a result, Art in the Garden was born.
“They really learn to see,” Robbins said about the students at Art in the Garden. The girls work on painting and drawing what they see. Lucretia wants the girls to really see how the branches turn, really see the surface of a stem.
Robbins’ garden was born 16 years ago too as a gift to her home for years of shelter. She and husband Bill Siemering, a radio pioneer essential to the creating of NPR and shows like Fresh Air, took out the driveway and some stuffy lawn. They turned it into a garden where each season Robbins’ artistic vision is once again called upon. To learn more about horticulture, Robbins returned to school six years ago, completing work at The Barnes Foundation Arboretum School in 2011. This year her garden was a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gardening and Greening contest award winner in the Flower Category.
“By studying horticulture you’re really thinking about the structure of the plant,” Robbins said. “That transitions into the garden. The knowledge of plants transitions into the botanical paintings.”
The majority of her work today consists of detailed pieces of one element or one detailed glance from the garden; a few petals close to a stem, a shoot just piercing through earth, or one leaf. Most recently, she’s focused on photography, for which she won a 2013 Larmon Photo award. There’s also the spread of her Art in the Garden and other work in the March 2014 edition of Country Gardens magazine. In 2006 she won Best of Show from the Lancaster Country Art Association.
Not bad for a woman who was not trained at an art school.
For more information, visit lucretiarobbins.com