Multi-talented Robison balances wit and wisdom

Sally Robison, 2011 Island Treasure recipient - Brad Camp/ For the Review
Sally Robison, 2011 Island Treasure recipient
— image credit: Brad Camp/ For the Review

With Drake, the wonder dog attentive on her lap, Robison, a 2011 Island Treasure recipient sat at her dining room table in the Vineyard Lane home she shares with husband Merrill. She grew up in Aberdeen, Miss., surrounded by women – literally, generations of storytellers.

“My grandmother was unusual, quirky. She was a magnet. People always came to see her and they would talk, talk, talk,” she said.

Robison paid attention, repeating stories years later.

“How could you remember that story?” a relative would marvel. “You were only a child.”

“Stories were in the air” Robison explained decades later, her voice still drenched in a classic Southern drawl.

Robison is still harvesting story lines that hang in the atmosphere, capturing dialogue, scenes, and characters, caught like fireflies in a mason jar.

She studied fine art – the first of her high school to earn a master’s degree. Her thesis was intuitive design at a time when such notions were eccentric.

She immersed herself in painting, creating lithographs and developing both her technique “and her voice” learning to trust her authentic perspective.

When her eyesight began to fail, she turned to writing. Using words instead of pictures, her imagination was still drawn to the intimate details that reveal character.

She has taught writing at various institutions, including University of Auburn, and North Seattle Community College.

She was one of the first in what would become a wave of transplants to Bainbridge Island.

Immediately she showed up in support of Bainbridge Arts & Crafts, serving behind the scenes and on its board.

About 15 years ago, she started a fledgling writers’ group to help others “find their own voice.”

“I didn’t know it would become such an institution,” she said of the group that has attracted a cadre of accomplished writers and still meets once a week.

“It’s been a great pleasure in my life, something I’m very proud of.”

Robison’s voice is unmistakably Southern and infused with her trademark droll wit.

“People misjudge me because I’m funny,” she said. She struggles to balance serious with humor.

She wrote a column for the Bainbridge Review, culling tidbits of dialogue and character sketches from real life on Winslow Way. Recently she’s compiled those columns into a book in two volumes, “A Permanent Guest’s Illustrated Guide to Bainbridge Island.”

After corneal surgery restored her sight, Robison immediately returned to visual arts, but this time utilizing modern tools. Having lived with Macintosh computers for decades, (she and Merrill bought “the second Apple sold in Puget Sound”), she tutored herself in Photoshop, learning to paint imaginative scenes of people, and often dogs, caught in unusual circumstances. These snapshots of stories don’t belie their pixelated origins.

As one friend remarked, “My mouse doesn’t know how to do that.”

These computer-generated pieces have been accepted in numerous shows including this month’s BAC exhibit “The Moon” where her piece “Salmon Dreams” is on display.

Robison was surprised by a visit in December by Island Treasure founder Cynthia Sears. She assumed Sears was there to talk about the new art museum, until Sears sprung the news.

“It’s very fine to get such a vote of confidence,” she said.

“Blowing embers” on the arts community just comes naturally for her.

“If you walk around optimistically and look, you can do a lot for Bainbridge Island,” she said.

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