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Robin Huffman – Woman Reinvented and Reborn

Several weeks ago, I met an extraordinary woman. With an extraordinary story. Robin Huffman worked as an interior designer and project manager with a global firm in New York City. In 2017 after 29 years at the firm, she decided to take some time off to volunteer at an ape and monkey sanctuary in Cameroon. It was intended to be a break from the grind of corporate city life. Just a summer to re-set. But at the sanctuary, she was tasked with caring for a tiny, blue-faced monkey named Maasai.  

Maasai (Moustached guernon – after a photo by Ian Bickerstaff; 20.5 x 28 Acrylic on paper)

Robin told me that until then she had never felt any maternal instinct. “I didn’t even like to babysit,” she said. But when this fragile baby, who fit in the palm of her hand, looked up at her, Robin felt an overwhelming desire to protect, care for, and mother this infant. Two lives were changed. Maasai and Robin.

And in the weeks that followed, the feeling grew, the little orphan clinging to her caregiver as much as she could.

Primates like Maasai’s parents are killed by poachers for bushmeat or are unable to survive as their jungle habitat is cut down for timber or razed to cultivate cash crops such as coffee and cocoa. Most of the local villagers have no knowledge of proper land management practices and are completely unaware of the effects of deforestation on the environment and animals.

The sanctuary where Robin stayed serves as a center, educating the residents and the hundreds of visitors who come to the sanctuary every month.

Soon, Robin began her transformation from volunteer educator and primate caregiver to artist, dedicating her life to telling the stories through her paintings of many of the primates she personally raised. Most astonishing to me is that the only painting class Robin had ever taken was more than 40 years earlier at the age of twelve. It’s as if she picked up a brush and the miracle that are animals flowed through her hands.

Maggie May with Leaves (Mandrill; 60 x 40 Acrylic on linen)

The sanctuary counts on volunteers, who typically stay from one to three months. But some, like Robin, return again and again. In fact, Robin stepped away from her career and her home to be able to volunteer more at the sanctuaries. And her art continued.

Witness (Lesula after a photo by Maurice Emetshu; 60 x 48 Acrylic on canvas)

It wasn’t all easy by any stretch. When I asked Robin what the most difficult part of living in the jungle was (after years of being a Manhattanite), she said without pause, “The bugs.” There are the Soldier Ants that swarm through the kitchen area or young primate sleeping spaces, the seemingly unlimited species of flies and jiggers that make life more than a little annoying. But there are the apes and monkeys. And there are the paintings!

Jimmy Jimmy (De Brazza’s monkey; 48 x 36 Acrylic on linen)

I have posted a few here. But please visit Robin’s site to look at the incredible work she is doing.

Mowgli – Vervet monkey; 48 x 48 Acrylic on canvas)

And should you be so moved as to want to volunteer yourself (the bugs weren’t really that bad …) or donate to the wonderful sanctuaries that work day and night to keep our precious wildlife viable, please visit Ape Action Africa or the Pan African Sanctuary Alliance.

Keksie (Vervet monkey; 48 x 48 Acrylic on canvas)

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