Rita Maria Linley Ham Corbin
May 21, 1930 – November 17, 2011
Rita was born on May 21, 1930 in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her family moved often before settling in New York City, where she attended Cathedral Girls’ High School. She rebelled against secretarial training and obtained a scholarship to the Franklin School of Professional Art. She also studied at the Art Students’ League under printmaker Harold Sternberg and abstract expressionist painter Hans Hoffman, but she said her best education came from visiting art museums and galleries, exploring the city and drawing the ordinary people she saw. In 1950, Rita became involved in the Catholic Worker movement. The founder, Dorothy Day, with whom she became close friends, immediately set Rita to work illustrating the paper, The Catholic Worker. Rita became a lifelong contributor as one of the three primary Catholic Worker artists, along with Fritz Eichenberg and Ade Bethune.
In 1954 she married Martin Joseph Corbin, editor and literary critic. They worked on the Liberation magazine with activist Dave Dellinger, and then they joined the Catholic Worker farm in Tivoli, New York. Marty was editor of The Catholic Worker paper from 1964 to 1973. The family moved to Canada, where Marty taught English literature at Dawson College in Montreal. Rita and her children eventually settled in Brattleboro, Vermont in the early 1980’s, and she has lived in the Brattleboro area off and on ever since. She spent a few years in Worcester, Mass., in the early 1990’s and had close ties to Catholic Worker communities in that area as well.
Rita loved to travel and felt no need to remain in one place for long. She lived simply with few belongings but for her books, her art and her artists’ materials. As an artist, she explored every medium she could and even experimented with computer drawing programs, but she considered her best work to be her drawings of the ordinary, the poor and dispossessed. She also loved being outdoors and drew inspiration from nature. “All life is sacred,” she said. Her approach to her art was also her approach to life. Rita accepted everyone she met without judgment. She believed everyone was a child of God and was always willing to help someone in need. She was unfailingly generous and hospitable and never had an unkind word to say about anyone. When an interviewer once asked her, “Do you believe the artist has a social responsibility?” she responded, “Everyone has a social responsibility. “
Her work has appeared in many well-known religious magazines including Commonweal, Catholic Digest, Liberation, Fellowship, and Catholic Youth Ministry. She worked with publishers such as Paulist Press and illustrated many books including Thomas Merton’s Ishi Means Man. She also created an annual Catholic Worker calendar, starting in the late 1960’s and which continues to this day. Her artwork has been shown at Rockhurst College in Kansas City, and the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. Her last exhibit, held in Putney, Vt., was in September.