fb pixel

Log In

Reset Password

A troubled Life

The works of Regina Dorland Robinson, a gifted and enigmatic — artist, displayed at the Southern Oregon Historical Society Museum in — Medford, do not tell the story of the artist who painted them. It's a — story that simply can't be told in full.

Born in Jacksonville, Oregon, in 1891, Robinson possessed — a deep well of talent. Working in charcoal, oil, and watercolors, she — produced at least 60 known works (it is thought that there are more in — private collections). And suddenly, inexplicably, at the age of 26, just — on the cusp of becoming a nationally recognized talent, she committed — suicide.

What would have prompted such a young, gifted artist, — who produced in a relatively short period of time a strong and wide ranging — body of work that demonstrated, with every passing year, greater mastery — and control to take her life? There are no diaries or letters that definitively — explain the insurmountable torment that Robinson must have faced at the — end of her life; there is only conjecture.

What remains, what intrigues, is the outline of a young — woman who possessed a rare talent and a future filled with promise, who — was, ultimately, unable to cope with circumstances that ultimately overwhelmed — her.

Unfortunately, less is known about her life than more, — and the scaffolding of her days, especially pertaining to those months — that led up to her death, still remains elusive.

What is known is that she grew up in a three-story home — on the edge of Jacksonville. Her father, James Robinson, a physician and — her mother, Tillie Robinson, were prominent members of the Jacksonville — community.

A year before Dorland's birth, her brother and sister — both died of diphtheria. Stricken by grief, fearful that something similar — might befall Dorland, her parents went to great lengths to protect her. — They selected her playmates, sent her to a private school, and monitored — her activities closely.

What compelled Dorland to begin drawing at an early age — is not clear. Her father was an amateur painter and likely encouraged — her. According to "A Brief Bloom," a short biography by Sue Waldron, Dorland — did take art and piano lessons at St. Mary's Academy in Jacksonville. — Waldron points out that she "spent many hours alone, reading, practicing — her piano and sketching — and since she didn't participate in group activities — she was sometimes allowed to ask her friends to go sketching with her." — It was during this time with the sisters that she began to work in portraiture, — creating sepia and charcoal drawings of school friends. Waldron also wrote — that in the summer of 1904 Dorland, twelve years old at the time, took — lessons from Jacksonville artist and photographer Peter Britt.

In 1905, at the age of 13, Dorland accompanied her parents — to see the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, where she saw, likely — for the first time, exhibits of some of America's best and brightest artists. — Inspired by her interest and obvious talent, her father encouraged Dorland — to get further training in Berkeley, Calif., where she spent a winter — studying. At the time most of the art schools in San Francisco has been — destroyed in the earthquake. In 1907 she journeyed to Portland where she — studied anatomy and perspective, honing her mastery of shading using charcoal, — and, it seems, found that she preferred portraiture over other expressions. —

According to museum program associate Dawna Curler, in — her brochure, "Lasting Impressions: The Art and Life of Dorland Robinson," — in the fall of 1910, Dorland studied for seven months at the Pennsylvania — Academy of Fine Arts while her parents lived nearby, her father volunteering — his services at local clinics. With each course of study, her work evolved — and improved, and during the Philadelphia period she produced many oil — paintings that suggest the influence of William Merritt Chase.

Once again the family decided that Dorland should continue — her training and relocated to Oakland, Calif., and for the next several — years she and her mother resided in the Bay Area while her father commuted — back and forth to Jacksonville. It was during the Oakland period that — she added seascapes to her repertoire, and the influence of the California — impressionistic style became evident in some of her work.

Living once again in Jacksonville, Dorland did make a — trip to San Francisco in April of 1916 to view a large art exhibit held — over from the 1915 Panama Pacific Exposition. For the first time she was — unaccompanied by her parents. Instead she had a traveling companion, Stella — Johnson, a patroness from Medford. In late summer she was back in Portland — where she had an exhibit and showed a life-sized portrait of Stella Johnson.

It is at this point that even the vaguest details of Dorland's — life are obscured. Having lived a very hermetic life, sheltered by her — parents, encouraged to nurture her talent above all else, she met Charles — Henry Pearson, a salesman from San Francisco. What happened next was all — but a template for a screenplay: Young, inexperienced, cloistered artist, — unfamiliar with the ways of the world, fragile and naive, meets urbane, — smooth-talking salesman from large city. Dorland was wooed, swept off — her feet, and for the first time found herself in the company of an ardent — suitor. Nothing, from all accounts, would have prepared her for this experience. — Surprisingly, or maybe not, she was married Oct. 25, 1916, after what — must have been, especially for that day, a very short engagement. Suddenly, — this quintessentially Victorian woman finds her life abruptly changed.

December of 1916, it is reported that Dorland suffered — a "nervous breakdown." In January of 1917 she was granted a divorce which — had been initiated by Charles Pearson. At this point Pearson disappears — from the record, never to be heard of again. In the late winter and early — spring of that year, Dorland seems to be on the mend, and has resumed — painting. In the first week of April, she wrote to Stella Johnson, asking — her to come to San Mateo, where Dorland and her mother were in residence, — for a visit. On April 7, Dorland's body, with a pistol nearby, was discovered — by her mother. Her death certificate identifies her as single. Several — days later, Dorland was buried alongside her brother and sister in the — Jacksonville Cemetery.

It has been more than 80 years since the death of Regina — Dorland Robinson, and still her paintings and drawings captivate audiences. — As Dawna Curler points out, "Dorland showed remarkable talent for someone — so young. I love the ethereal quality of her water colors and her portraits — have a pensive quality to them. She had a way of capturing the depth of — personality of her models. Her later works express a softness and sensitivity — that draws you in."

The current exhibit of Robinson's works at the Southern — Oregon Historical Museum is the most comprehensive to date and is owned — in its entirety by the museum. The curators are hopeful that any private — collector who might have works by Robinson will contact the museum so — that the chronology of the artist's work can be completed.