“I like Zoom a lot! It makes me feel like I’m part of the world,” says Dr. Arline Rubin, an 86-year-old retired Brooklyn College professor who presses dried leaves and flowers into artsy cards, quilts wall hangings and makes brooches from recycled buttons. COVID restrictions have deepened her passion for art, in ways she never thought possible — from attending an online course in collages, that she would have been too busy to enroll in pre-COVID, to online quilting groups where videos of special techniques are shared.
Her journey into the wonders of technology started when the art and craft group she is a member of, Auspicious Stitches, that used to meet at the Rubin Museum and Andrew Heiskell Library, was forced to switch to online meetings when the pandemic started. The group is largely comprised of retirees from all walks of life, from a physician to a book editor. “When we are doing meetings on Zoom, I encourage people to show me what they’re doing,” says Rubin. “I decided to write a newsletter every week with what’s happening, [and] take pictures of people’s work.”
Rubin, who lives in the West Village, says that when she realized using Zoom has many advantages, she grew to be fond of it. “You can see very close up what somebody is working on via Zoom,” says Rubin, describing how there is more focus on each participant’s work than when they used to meet in person. She also cites how she has seen online presentations of the work of other artists through the collage course, which Rubin says has “extended my interest in art.”
This passion for art began around the age of 11, when she started sewing and crocheting with encouragement from her family. Throughout her 35-year career teaching health and nutrition science at Brooklyn College, Rubin’s passion for art never relented. She threw herself into every art form imaginable — weaving, decoupage, fabric dying, knitting, jewelry-making — and the list goes on. “It was a pleasure to see something completed, a product at the end of it that looked nice,” she describes.
The current focus of her artistic endeavors are on pressed real flowers and leaves, turned into beautiful greeting cards and decorative art pieces. When a friend’s mother-in-law bought her cards consistently for over 15 years until she passed, and an interior decorator commissioned her to create framed pieces to be placed over a client’s bed, Rubin was inspired to sell her cards to the Botanical Gardens shops, as well as pottery, gardening and gift stores. “It would have to be an upscale kind of place because my cards sell for $10 per card,” she notes. “I don’t really need the money, but it’s nice to be reinforced that way when somebody is willing to pay that much.”
Rubin has also discovered a myriad of ways to reach out to the community online. “I’ve been asked to show my quilts to various groups online now, I’ve [recorded] a one hour [video] on what I do in pressing my flowers for a local synagogue,” she says. “I also enrolled in a social justice program online where I did a presentation on pressing flowers. I was in 16 sessions.”
If there is some sort of online art group, you can bet Rubin is part of it. But she takes it even further than art, going on online video tours with a site called Beamz. “I tour many countries,” she gushes. “I’ll be in Australia in the morning and Prague in the afternoon, in the half hour programs. I really enjoy them.” Rubin also relishes in something closer to home, cooking alongside a chef in an online cooking class.
When asked how she came to be a rare breed of senior citizen who, instead of scrambling away from anything techy that seems like a mountain to climb, has fully embraced it all, her only response is that she just happens to like connecting to people. She marvels at how videos and online presentations of art have opened her eyes to so much more. If that isn’t being positive and productive in these tough times, we don’t know what is.