An 87-year-old Cherry Hill resident has an exhibit of her work displayed on the walls of the Cherry Hill library.
Florence Robin’s debut show, Fish-Bird and Flower Fantasies, features brightly colored paintings and pictures of floral structures that capture movement and color through the string-pull technique on black and white canvas. They have whimsical names like The White Knight and Gift Giver.
“You can’t go back to the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending,” reads one of the quotes on the library walls.
Robin has been painting since 2020 and began by using the string-pull (or chain-pull) method after her husband Harvey got sick so she could care for him. She has done photography around the world for 50 years and is also an active pro bowler.
While Robin has experience with photography and dabbled in pottery, the library exhibit marks the first time she tried painting.
“I went on YouTube and thought, ‘I have to keep my creativity active,’” she recalled. “And I found this way of painting with a string and ball chain. And in 2020, I would start practicing every day.”
Harvey Robin had always supported his wife’s art and activities, but he was even more so while sick. He died last year.
“In the very beginning, I said, ‘I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to go out of the house,’” Robin recalled of the time she cared for Harvey. “And then I started getting depressed. I felt like a prisoner and I said, ‘This is not good.’
“So we talked about it and he said, ‘Go, go out with your friends and go bowling. Go out with your friends and go do it.’”
And Robin did. Getting out helped keep her lively, she said, and allowed her to continue moving forward even after her husband died.
To finish a canvas takes around two hours, she pointed out, and the artistry is spontaneous: If you work too long on a piece, it will get muddy. To get to that two-hour mark, Robin went through a lot of canvases, until she understood how to manipulate the sting to get the desired effect.
“The more you work at it, the better you get, the freer you become,” she pointed out. “And that’s the whole key with this kind of painting. It’s not an easy kind of painting because you can’t brush it over. It’s almost like a one-stroke event … So it’s very spontaneous and very deliberate how you move that piece of string or chain.”
When she begins a new painting, Robin acknowledged, she doesn’t know what she will paint: It’s not as though she sets out to create a specific image. But as the work progresses, it becomes a flower or a fish-bird, Robin names the piece according to the feeling it gives her.
“My message is this: ‘Don’t stop living,’” she said. “(If) you stop living, then you die, and that’s not a thing. You must set a goal in something you would enjoy or an avenue from a past experience or something. That’s the painting I’m doing.
‘ … When your husband is ill, learn new things,” Robin added. “Keep yourself occupied and don’t stop living when your husband dies. That’s the whole thing; you must continue with your life.”