A man of many talents, Charles Raskob Robinson is the author and artist of Lake Waramaug Observed, a wonderful book dedicated to the history and beauty of our enchanted lake.
Charles Raskob Robinson paints in the studio in which the artist and writer Eric Sloane painted. He says, “It is little changed: A Franklin stove, northern skylights in a post and beam farm house built before the French and Indian War, the Revolution, the Constitution, the French Revolution – a long time ago! This was Eric’s home – back in the 1950s.” The studio is on his Washington property called Brush Hill and this is where Charles has written and painted for decades. He writes a column known as “Notes from Brush Hill” which is published in the American Society of Marine Artists’ quarterly magazine, the ASMA News and Journal.
Robinson has published a new book titledLake Waramaug Observed: Its Beauty In The Four Seasons, Its Amazing History And Its Promising Future. It is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the Present— its Beauty— and consists of Robinson’s thirty-five paintings of the Lake in four seasons from the same vantage point painted on location (except for the two night scenes). The second part deals with the Past—the lake’s history. The third part focuses on the Future— its preservation. The paintings are a fascinating documentation of the lake’s changing faces, through light and color as it affects the water and the landscape. His work captures not only the beauty of Lake Waramaug, but its soul as well.
As a young child, Charles Raskob Robinson would swim in a spring-fed farm pond, then he spent summers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and in the waters off the coastline in Maine. During his high school years, he rowed 2,000 miles down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico and then travelled alone 4,500 miles up the Amazon River and its tributaries. His love of water is evident in his lifelong experiences with ponds, rivers, lakes, and oceans.
Charles Raskob Robinson was exposed to art in his early years through the influence of Howard Pyle, the Wyeths and other artists of the Brandywine School, having grown up in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania. While working in the banking world in New York City, he attended the Art Students League and Carnegie Hall Studios, and became a professional artist. Over the years, his art has appeared in many magazines – from Architectural Digest to the cover of Yankee Magazine and he has written for others, and is a regular contributor to Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine.
We caught up with Charles to find out more about his background and his process in creating the paintings of Lake Waramaug:
You were born and raised in Pennsylvania— how did you end up living in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut?
A wonderful act of God. And those so blessed know how wonderful it is.
When did you become interested in art?
I was an economics major in college and studied international economics at graduate school (The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D. C.); I was introduced to art at Bankers Trust Company (then one of the 10 largest banks in the U.S.)
What was it that informed your decision to leave the banking world after a 20-year career to become a professional artist?
Observation. Banking was most interesting but the world offered more.
You have successfully merged three of your passions—your love of water, the process of painting, and your concern for the environment—into art. Was this planned or accidental?
How much of life is “planned” and how much is as the gods have it.
Through your paintings and book, you have brought tremendous public awareness about the beauty and preservation of Lake Waramaug. Was this your goal or was it a more personal mission?
I am the first to question how much “tremendous public awareness” my efforts brought to the subject matter but thank you for the thought. It was really Part II of the book that prompted action. Do have a look at it. This is the part that has been used in various talks in conjunction with various environmental groups involved in the lake. These are the heroes.
What did you learn over the two years you spent painting Lake Waramaug from the same vantage point?
Increasing humility. As a species we are overly full of ourselves. Just look at that 3/16th of an inch in the football field example and if that doesn’t prompt sobriety, raise your head to look at the very small part of the universe you can see. Humility.
What was your favorite time of day and light while painting the lake?
Each had its merits. All were important to present the overall picture.
Your log observations for each painting provide insight into your process and the many moods of the weather on the lake. Do you find taking notes forces you to pay more attention to the details?
Yes. And, in finishing the plain air painting in the studio, very important in remembering what the situation was.
As a young boy, the American naturalist John Burroughs (whom you quote at the end of your book) used to sit on a favorite rock on his family’s farm and “study the ways of nature around him”. Do you attribute your early childhood experiences being near water—whether a pond, a river, or the ocean— to your interest in the natural world and in documenting your observations through words, art and even music?
Good question. Borroughs is not known to readers today yet he was the most widely read American author of his time. I would encourage your readers to revisit him.
As to my experiences and the influence of water – who knows. Clearly 2000 miles of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and 4500 miles of solo on the Amazon, the Chesapeake, Blue waters of the Atlantic, etc. supplemented whatever the farm pond in PA offered. But you know well, who knows what actually influences us.
What are you working on now and do you have any plans for future projects that you would share with us?
Yes. Something that indeed you might be interested in: Iceboating in Northwestern CT (and the northern hemisphere). I am a member of the Connecticut Ice Yacht Club (how does that sound?!), the oldest iceboating yacht club in the state going back for nearly a century and, surprisingly, located right here in the middle of your readership territory, Bantam Lake. I have been working on a a series of paintings that feature what they call “Hard water” sailing. Clearly something that is going on and has been going on in the Hills of Northwestern Connecticut!