Sharon Rae Robinson led a quiet life in the northern hills of Santa Rosa, where neighbors knew her as a sweet, soft-spoken and unassuming artist who quilted, weaved and painted. She never boasted about her work, some featured in magazines, national and international competitions and museums, including the Smithsonian.
Born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, she earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts and a master’s in fine textiles from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Robinson dabbled in various media and techniques, including textiles, mosaics and pointillism.
In 1989, she created a coiled pine needle basket that later was donated to the Smithsonian by Dr. Merwyn L. Burrous of St. Helena. Titled “Off,” the basket remains part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C.
“She was really inspired by art and making,” said Lynn Hohler, a neighbor who bonded with the petite woman over art after Robinson stopped by to see her Halloween dioramas and crafts two days before the Tubbs fire erupted Oct. 8. It destroyed their entire Donner Drive neighborhood.
Her daughter, Cathie Merkel, who declined to comment for this story, searched for her mother before finally posting four days later a Facebook message that Robinson, 79, never made it out that night. The fire moved at lightning speed, giving residents little time to react, longtime neighbor Dick Vogel previously said.
Robinson’s body was discovered inside her charred home. Authorities identified her from a medical device found with her remains.
Vogel said she was friendly but a private person who lived alone with her cats. She built the home next door to him nearly 40 years ago, Vogel said.
Jeri Sprague, 62, met Robinson shortly after moving into the neighborhood in 1985. Robinson had invited her over to check out a children’s dresser she was selling, said Sprague, who still remembers a beautiful quilted horse blanket hanging over the woman’s fireplace.
“It had tiny squares (and) beautiful colors,” she said.
One of Robinson’s “exquisitely tailored custom-made” horse quilts was featured in a 1980 issue of Texas Monthly magazine. Her quilts also were featured in the inaugural 1979 and 1981 Quilt National exhibits in Athens, Ohio.
“It’s like winning an Oscar. If you get into Quilt National, you’ve made it,” said Jane Forrest Redfern, executive director of the Dairy Barn, which puts on the quilt exhibit, held every other year.
Some of her quilts were donated to the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, said Marvin Fletcher, an avid quilt collector and Quilt National historian.
Sprague said Robinson spent a summer teaching her daughter, Jacquie, drawing and pointillism when she was about 9. She was a good teacher, instilling confidence in her daughter, Sprague said.
“She was just a very warm and friendly woman,” Sprague said. “She was so talented.”