By Sandra Marshall
Taunyee Robbins was raised by the sea in the small town of Rockport, Massachusetts. She lived in Cape Ann, an artist’s community with a long tradition of famous painters who came to represent the beautiful scenery en plein air. Her mother, Mary Robbins, was a fabulous watercolour painter and taught Taunyee how to paint when she was around ten years old. She was surrounded by an appreciation for all the arts, and continued her studies at the Massachusetts College of Art.
One summer while she was waitressing, she served a family who were speaking French, of which she had a beginner’s knowledge. Taunyee wondered if they were from France, but they responded that no, they were from Quebec. “Quebec?” she queried. “Canada”, they replied. During her school years, Canada was shown as entirely white on the map… snow obviously, she had imagined. Obviously not! She wanted to know more, so asked a girlfriend to join her on a road trip to a place called Quebec City, and off they drove. That little road trip in the summer of 1969 introduced her to a whole new culture and a whole new country.
She fell in love with all of it and returned home to announce that she was going to go live in Quebec for a while. But she told her family not to worry, she would be still connected by land so she could always find her way home!
On New Year’s Eve, of that year Taunyee became a landed immigrant in Canada and changed the whole course of her life in the blink of an eye. However, when she arrived in Quebec, she quickly realized that, her high school French skill was not going to get her far! As a new immigrant she was offered French classes with all the other immigrants. They had a terrific teacher and enjoyed that time. She became a Canadian citizen around 1980 and holds dual citizenship.
Taunyee has wanderlust -She says that she prefers the more exotic countries such as Morocco, Jordan and Egypt, as well as some of the Caribbean islands. They stir her imagination with their colors, fragrances and music! But over the years she has lived in Montreal, St. John’s, and Roddickton Newfoundland (a village on the Great Northern Peninsula) and rural Quebec.
When she arrived in Montreal, she was fortunate to land a job with The Montreal Star newspaper. They taught her how to paste-up, design ads, and do graphic design. She continued in that field for a couple of years before she married and started a family.
In 1985, after her marriage ended, Taunyee moved to Ottawa with her three children. She also met Allen Stanish then, who would become her future husband in 1990, at a Centretown community center where aspiring jugglers and unicyclists practiced.
Taunyee re-entered the field of graphic design at Maruska Studios in Ottawa’s lively Market area. What a wonderful creative job! She designed, created colour mock-ups, cut and pasted… everything was hands on. Then in 1986 the company design work ‘transitioned’ to a square box called an Apple computer.
She missed hands-on creating and enrolled at the Ottawa School of Art in a sculpture class. Her first oeuvre was a life size bust in solid clay and she needed a forklift to move the head around. She created a plaster mold of her work and cast it in concrete. She says that she never had so much fun in her life! So, that was the beginning…
Garden sculpture had always appealed to her and she decided, with her newfound skills, to make some for herself. She designed a series of sculptures based on mythic creatures, gargoyles, lions, Greek gods, the Sun, the Windman, the Green man… Friends and family were taken by them and wanted her sculptures too. That was the start of Taunyee’s own business, Cosmoz Design (Capricious Compositions of a Peculiar Nature). Her husband Allen learned how to make molds and cast the pieces in concrete, accompanying each sculpture with a fable or story. They continued the business until 1999, when they moved back to Massachusetts to stay with her mother for a while. They were prepared to return to Canada in 2008 after her mother passed away, but then the American financial market crashed and they only made it back in 2014.Two years later Allen passed away.
In time, Taunyee began to work in clay again, only this time in fired ceramics. It was a whole different ballgame! It was a challenge to create a hollow clay sculpture and to learn the different techniques of fabrication and firing. She discovered the engineering side of her brain! She had to keep the sculpture from blowing up in the kiln and discover the million different ways to finish the piece. She began using simple oxides and has recently been experimenting with underglazes and a scratched design technique called sgraffito. Cold finishes such as acrylic paint and even pastel were also explored. Taunyee feels that she just touched the surface of what is possible.
Over the years she has worked in every medium she could find: oil and acrylic painting, print and paper making, pastel, ink, multimedia, concrete and clay. Each experiment in these media has contributed to her creative expression.
In her clay work, Taunyee is moved by an idea first, and then determines how to express that idea in clay. She makes a number of loose sketches to capture the attitude or flow of the piece. If it is a face, the expression is the most important to her. However, a sketch doesn’t take you very far in the three dimensional world. After the idea, she must figure out how to construct it, which is the most difficult part and challenging for her. It’s called trial and error! However, once things are settled, she allows the clay to express itself. Taunyee loves how her animal and human characters take shape. They seem to emerge out of the clay by their own volition, a sign of her receptivity to new ideas.
Her only plan for her future work is to carry on exploring. She has really just begun and there is so much she wants to learn and try.
The advice she has for anyone starting out is to take some classes for the basics, and then just keep working at it. Taunyee quotes the poet Rumi “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
Taunyee wants to touch people on an emotional level, to uplift their hearts or invite them to look deeper. That is her special skill.
She joined the National Capital Network of Sculptors in September 2017, where she found like-minded artists and has exhibited at the annual sculpture show since then. She also sells work when people contact her from her Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/Taunyeesculptor
Taunyee is a member of the Ottawa Guild of Potters as well and you can find her profile at www.ottawaguildofpotters.ca
Don’t forget to check out Taunyee’s work in our Online Gallery at https://sculptureottawa.ca/online-gallery-2/