There was very little, if any, evidence of Charles Raskob Robinson’s artistic leanings during his time at Haverford, where he studied political science and economics. After earning a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., Robinson found himself working on Wall Street and living in Manhattan. It wasn’t until he took an enrichment course that his artistic talents surfaced. Robinson was the sole male—and the only officer—enrolled in the weekly “Learn to Paint” evening course offered by his employer, Bankers Trust Company. After three years of painting at night in the company cafeteria, an experience he likens to “crawling up a rock face with your fingernails,” Robinson summoned up the nerve to sign up for night courses at the Art Students’ League in midtown Manhattan. There, he spent five years developing his painting, with additional work across the street in the Carnegie Hall Studios. It was a steep learning curve.
“I know precious little about art,” Robinson admits, “even though I now travel in some rarified circles. What I know is from doing it, and back then, any little gleam of promise on the canvas was a cause for rejoicing. I had no self-confidence, no reason to have any. There was no apparent genius that had been hidden for years.”
What Robinson did have was the conviction to stay true to his craft and develop his skills. For 15 years, he roused himself at 5 a.m. to paint for two hours before reporting to work. When he entered the “amusingly formal” resignation appointment with the chairman, he was asked which bank he was going to join. “I told him I’m going to do what taught me to do—paint!” By the time he left Wall Street, his paintings were being collected by Malcom Forbes and IBM executive Thomas Watson.
Robinson has been painting now for more than 30 years. In March, he celebrated his 25th anniversary as a member of the American Society of Marine Artists, a group of about 500 professional artists who meet and hold exhibitions of their work. Robinson is currently serving as the Managing Fellow, one of 23 Fellows at the top of the organization.
Works by Robinson and the 23 Fellows are currently in a traveling exhibit, “The Everlasting Sea: Marine Artists Past and Present.” The show opened at the Newport Art Museum, Newport, R.I., in August and travels to the Maine Maritime Museum (Bath, Maine) and then to the Connecticut River Museum (Essex, Conn.). Robinson, who has been featured on the covers of Yankee magazine and US Art and in the pages of Architectural Digest, also will appear in the forthcoming Bound for Blue Water: Contemporary American Marine Art (Greenwich Workshop Press). In 1997 Robinson sailed a yawl across the Atlantic in preparation for a series of paintings titled The Crossing.
Robinson’s studio, in a 1752 farmhouse in Washington, Conn., belonged to the late Eric Sloane, the acclaimed New England artist, writer, and sculptor. “People come to see Sloane’s studio and my wife Barbara’s (BMC ’62) gardens, not to see Charlie Robinson,” he jokes. Another favorite subject of Robinson’s is Haverford (A host of Robinsons have attended Haverford, including Robinson’s father, Charles A. ’28, his two brothers, and his two sons, Charles P. ’89 and Torrance ’93); The Duck Pond (1985) and Founders Hall in Spring (2002) are both examples of Robinson’s fine work—and reminders of his business acumen. “It’s one of the oldest bankers’ tools,” he says. “I started putting out limited-edition prints to leverage my work to meet a larger demand. And, although I am represented in galleries in different parts of the country, the prints enable me to create a national presence I wouldn’t have had otherwise.” Both of these paintings were made into limited editions and donated to the College for fund-raising purposes.
The Internet is but the latest example of leverage; anyone can see Robinson's work at www.brushhillstudios.com. "Although visitors no longer have to come to my studio to see my work," he notes, "they are always welcome-especialy those from Haverford."