Sheila Robinson (1925–1988) was a noted artist and illustrator, one of the Great Bardfield Artists and a member of staff at the Royal College of Art.
Sheila Robinson was born in Nottingham in 1925. She studied at the Nottingham School of Art and in 1946 entered the School of Graphic Design at the Royal College of Art, where she was a student of Edward Bawden.
One of her RCA projects was a complete, hand-drawn, lettered and bound book, The Twelve Dancing Princesses.
She married fellow RCA student Bernard Cheese in 1951. In 1951 she helped Bawden with his mural in the Lion and Unicorn Pavilion for the Festival of Britain Exhibition on the South Bank. Daughter Chloe Cheese was born in 1952 and in 1954 following the birth of son Ben the family moved to Upalong, a house in Bardfield End Green. With Bernard working away and distancing himself from the family the marriage broke down, a situation which greatly saddened Sheila who never attempted another relationship. The couple separated in 1957, divorcing in 1958. With the help of the Bawdens, Sheila and the children moved to Cage Cottage in Great Bardfield.
Sheila, focussed on her art and produced an impressive body of work. She also worked on a number of commercial commissions – advertising posters, including BBC publications such as Time and Tune and the BBC Book of the Countryside. She created several posters for London Transport in the early 1950s, including Literary London and Tattoo. The linocut ‘Great Bardfield Windmill’ celebrates the move to Cage Cottage. Balancing her work as an artist and her role as a mother, Sheila would work at the kitchen table while Chloe and Ben would play on the floor or draw beside her.
Lino Cut: Cat looking out to Gibraltar Windmill, Great Bardfield. Cardboard Cut Prints: Pant Bridge. Bridge Street. Brook Street. Crown Street. Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.
In 2013 Choe recalled Cage Cottage: ‘It had a modern interior, the beams were painted white, there was wallpaper made by my mother – she printed it with her feet! I remember her work room – she worked at a Victorian table, there were rollers and a block – I would see my mother in the process of making her print. She also worked on the kitchen table – making designs for Schweppes. She designed animals – life size – for Blackpool Pleasure Beach – I think they are still there. I loved watching her make the drawings for those animals. She did a lot of work – this was a very productive time for her. She also made dresses for me to my designs and dolls.’
In 1960 Sheila’s father, Ernest, died in Nottingham and her mother Joyce came to live with her, a great help with the housework.
Sheila became an enthusiastic gardener helped by fellow artist gardeners the Bawdens and Aldridges, also paying visits to John Nash’s house in nearby Wormingford.
An inventive printmaker, Sheila developed her technique of cardboard-cut printing, Sheila’s daughter has kindly commented: My mother used fairly thick board and cut into it in a similar manner to lino cut (but not the same as a very different material) so nothing stuck on but coated with PVA to resist ink – that’s why I refer to her prints as cardboard cuts
Lino-cuts and cardboard prints: “Catherine cat Purrrrrfect condition ! lino 1965.
Red Tabby 1971. The Cat. Parrot. Fry Gallery, Saffron Walden.
During the 1960’s Sheila undertook some teaching at Walthamstow College of Art. In 1965 her work at Walthamstow led to a part-time teaching post at the RCA illustration department, commuting to London, teaching there until her death in 1988.
In 1967 a devastating thatched roof fire at Cage Cottage rendered the building uninhabitable following water damage. Walter Hoyle’s old home, nearby Stackyard Cottage, served as a temporary home before moving to Saffron Walden where Choe and Ben were now attending school.
Sheila was one of the artists who contributed to The Oxford Illustrated Old Testament in the 1960s (along with Edward Ardizzone, Edward Bawden, Peter Blake, John Brathy, Edward Burra, David Hockney, Carel Weight and Brian Wildsmith.
Sheila’s cardboard-cut prints for the Oxford Illustrated Old Testament.
Following Charlotte’s death in 1970 Edward Bawden moved from Great Bardfield to Saffron Walden and the two friends became a great comfort to each other during a time of domestic upheaval. Their long friendship spanned 42 years and the two would spend evenings discussing books and art. The two enjoyed painting trips including a trip to Istanbul which led to some of Sheila’s best later work.
The Melon Cart, Istanbul.
In 1975 Sheila was thrilled to receive a commission from the Limited Editions Club of Avon, Connecticut to illustrate D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Sons and Lovers’ producing a series of coloured cardboard cut prints.
Cardboard Cut Illustrations – Sons and Lovers. The third pic is a sketch for the second pic. Fry Gallery.
After Chloe and Ben left home Sheila moved house within Saffron Walden but her health was declining, and she lost confidence in her own work. Bawden was devastated when she died before him from a brain tumour aged 63.
London Road, Saffron Walden. Looking out over Saffron Walden Common her last print – unfinished. Cardboard Printing Block for Saffron Walden Castle. Fry Gallery.
Following her death, the RCA created the Sheila Robinson Drawing Prize in her honour
To finish…….some other varied works by Sheila:
Left: “Felsted school 1965. Blue Shadows etching proof 1965. Monkton Combe print for Editions Alecto 1964. Navigation Inn. Linocut_Abingdon Post Office design.
Right: “Two Houses Thaxted. Blue Monday. Great Bardfield. Hofterup Church Painting. The Cow, lithograph. The Storm, lithograph.
The majority of photos of works here are in the Fry Gallery archive, Saffron Walden.
Graham Bennison November 2021. https://www.facebook.com/BennisonArtist