By Jill WilsonFor Inland 360
The art of Russ and Marla Robbins is as authentic as it gets. Though their mediums differ, the husband-and-wife artists produce work representing their life experiences with materials from their Northwest surroundings.
Marla paints realistic compositions of animals, children and country life of anything from a feather to a chain saw bar. Russ creates 3D scenes atop the base of homemade desk lamps. They depict life growing up on a Montana ranch using what he calls “old junk” from his family’s property.
The couple, who live outside Endicott, had work on display at the Libey Gallery at The Center at Whitman County Library in Colfax this spring when the library closed because of COVID-19. Librarians recently made the exhibit available to view online in the video “Artwork at the Colfax Library Center” on the YouTube channel “WhitmanCoLibrary.”
Marla, who works under the name MA’s Western Arts, grew up on a ranch in Kellogg, Idaho, and began by drawing the wildlife around her.
“I’ve always been affected by what I see,” she said. “Growing up around animals helped me to get to know their facial expressions and the way they act. Whenever I’m commissioned to paint an animal, I always ask what kind of personality it has.”
Marla’s art has won top awards in art and wildlife shows around the country. She attributes much of her artistic success to being willing to paint off the canvas.
“I started painting on everything that people would ask and did lots of commissions,” she said. “I think that makes you a better artist, because it challenges you to do things that you wouldn’t normally do.”
Russ, who sells art under the name Russ-Tic Art, grew up on a ranch in Montana and started building things as soon as he was old enough to pick up a hammer. He milked 14 head of cattle a day, fixed family vehicles and built what was needed with whatever they had.
“Working on a ranch, that’s what you did to keep it going,” he said. “One thing you never said to your parents was, ‘I’m bored.’ ”
One of his lamps, titled “Dad’s Blacksmith Shop,” is a miniature replica of where his father built stagecoaches and wagons. The scene is fully realistic, with tiny tools and a wood-burning stove fit for any blacksmith fairy. Another lamp, titled “Gas and Go!,” holds a small buggy, complete with a tiny engine. The lampshade is made from the headlight of a 1932 car.
Russ’ work is realistic and exudes knowledge of a life of craftsmanship. He also enjoys making knives and tables.
“It’s just me,” he said. “I’ve always worked on things.”
Russ and Marla moved to the Endicott area two years ago from Rathdrum, Idaho.They plan to continue making the art they love for as long as possible — and as long as there is “old junk” lying around.
Besides the Robbinses, the video features a sampling of artwork and photography by other regional artists that was on display at the time of the shutdown. Other artists include Gabriella Ball, Vicki Broeckel, Dan Codd, Ken Carper, Bob Krikac, Sharon Lindsey, Tom Mohr, Nancy Rothwell and Carrie Vielle. Works shown in the video are for sale. Future segments on the channel will showcase artists discussing their work, influences and style.
IF YOU WATCH
WHAT: “Artwork at the Colfax Library Center”, video featuring art by Marla and Russ Robbins and others. The video was made by librarians at the Whitman County Library.
WHERE: Can be viewed on the YouTube channel “WhitmanCoLibrary” or via a link on the library’s website.
OF NOTE: The library remains closed because of COVID-19. Reopening the library and center are pending Safe Start guidelines from the Washington Governor’s Office.
Area residents can obtain a free, reusable face mask curbside from any branch of the Whitman County Library District. The masks provided by Washington State Emergency Management are adult sized and intended for lower-income residents or those who’ve struggled to locate a mask elsewhere. People can contact their local branch or the Colfax Branch at (509) 397-4366 to arrange curbside pickup of sized cloth masks, limited to the number of adult sizes in a family.