Robin Holder

Lisa E. Farrington, Ph.D.

In 1997—an especially productive year for Holder—the artist executed multiple large-scale public works: Cooperative Exploration, Dialogue, Exchange, and Oh Glorious Dawning. The latter, Oh Glorious Dawning, is an opalescent stained glass window commissioned by, and installed at, the Wayside Baptist Church in Brooklyn. Grand in scale (7 x 14 feet), the window is set high in the arched nave wall, above the baptismal pool, overlooking the congregation; and its imagery depicts black angels soaring in a starry sky over an idyllic landscape. Featured within the design is Holder's signature bird in flight, which echoes the poses of the angels and suggests (as do the seraphs) unlimited vision, freedom, and guidance. A second stained glass window installation, Cooperative Exploration, was commissioned by the School Construction Authority for a New York City public school lobby. Set into restored oak window frames, the largest component of the installation is a 6 x 13 foot Gothic style lancet window featuring a glittering jewel-tone palette and figures of children and teachers sharing knowledge. As pendants to the same commission, the 6 x 5 foot rectangular windows, Dialogue and Exchange, are installed in the school's second floor administrative offices, and are thematically and stylistically analogous to Cooperative Explorations.

In 2001, Holder was honored by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation with an invitation to participate in their Artist as Catalyst program in Philadelphia.25 As a condition of her fellowship, Holder agreed to work within the local community. To that end, she established a temporary studio in a north Philadelphia church—the Church of the Advocate. An historic landmark, this splendid Gothic Revival structure on West Diamond Street is the home of Arts Sanctuary—a non-profit organization that supports the creation of art centering on the African-American experience. The Church houses a substantial art collection, including fourteen murals on black history.

For the Artist as Catalyst project, Holder produced a unique set of multi-media artworks using acrylic paint and pencil on paper, which she mounted onto wood panels and hinged to create the effect of arched and shuttered windows (echoing her earlier "Behind Each Window" series). This constellation of works, through text and portraits, bemoans the dissipation of the insights and teachings which African American elders endeavor to pass onto their progeny.26 One image, which features the silhouette of a young man carrying a flower—presumably to his lady love—is wryly coupled with a written narrative about the use of condoms. In another piece called Edna 2, a bespectacled grandmother is poised between two shutters. She bows her head over a scrap of paper upon which the following words are inscribed: "The generation that's emerging now was conceived in lust and violence, without a thought; no values, no respect, no sense."

Young black girls with angels' wings are painted on the inside and outside of the window shutters in Edna 2, signifying lost innocence and perhaps the eventual passing of the living Edna (whom Holder interviewed for the series along with a number of other local seniors) into the next life; and with Edna's passing, the loss to her descendants of her values and perceptions. The tone of the series becomes especially pessimistic in a piece entitled Valerie, which focuses on the continued suffering and struggles of African Americans. The artist inscribed Valerie's words onto wood panels in a cursive script, simply and directly, as Valerie must have stated them to her: "One of my kids, she is on crack and prostituting. All I can do for her is pray and bury her if she dies."

More recently, Holder completed one of her most ambitious public commissions for the New York City Metropolitan Transit Authority [MTA]. For this assignment, she designed thirty-four laminated glass panels, which were installed in the fall of 2006 at the Flushing Avenue train station in Brooklyn. Entitled Migration, the Brooklyn panels adorn the station's mezzanine and platform windscreens. Abstract and intensely hued, Holder's design "incorporates symbols from various cultures that relate to themes of interaction, movement, and society in motion."27 Chinese, Japanese, and Pre-Columbian hieroglyphs are embedded in the designs; and the artist intended for a glossary-style key that defined the various symbols to be posted in the station so that straphangers would have some insight into their meaning. This plan was never realized, however, due to an MTA regime change; and unfortunately the symbols remain imperceptible to their audience. In order to personalize and fully realize her original intention "to promote a sense of celebration, and reflect the vivacity, energy and liveliness of [her] fellow New Yorkers who use the Flushing Avenue Station," Holder later created a group of prints extrapolated from the project.28 As is obvious from all of the artist's public programs, Holder is much more than a master printmaker. Her ability to translate her aesthetic visions into a broad range of media and sites is indicative of her particular brand of creative genius.

Holder's abundant achievements include not only art-making, but also arts administration and teaching. She has worked for many years as an art educator in elementary and high schools and served as an artist-in-residence at such respected institutions as the Museo del Barrio, The Isamu Noguchi Museum, The Studio in a School Association, the Craft Students League, Pratt Institute, the Manhattan Children's Museum, and Arts Horizons. Holder's accolades are likewise numerous and include a Purchase Award from the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, the University of Hawaii Juror's Award, and a grant and scholarship, respectively, from the Manhattan Graphics Center and the Art Students League, to cite only a few. Highly respected in her field, Holder has been invited by a number of cultural and educational institutions to serve as a panelist, juror, lecturer, and consultant. These institutions include most notably the Delaware Division of the Arts, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.29