Born December 7, 1930, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Lydia demonstrated a talent for drawing and painting. Her love of art and its creative and expressive possibilities drew her to New York, where in 1959 she graduated from the School of Art, Cooper Union, with a degree in painting. After studying painting with Larry Day at the Aspen School of Art in Colorado, she became a textile designer creating designs for large American textile firms and department stores, notably through the Nina Lewin and the Paul Hargittal studios.
A call from a long-time friend in 1966 led to her involvement with African art. Joining the new African Art Museum on Capitol Hill, in Washington D.C., Lydia worked alongside founder Warren Robbins through the museum’s growth and development, from its establishment in the Frederick Douglass house on A Street to its incorporation into the Smithsonian Institution as the National Museum of African Art in 1979 through an act of Congress and beyond. Throughout the years, she held a variety of posts including exhibition designer, curatorial assistant, registrar, curator of exhibitions and of collections, retiring from the Smithsonian in 2000 as curator. She designed over 75 exhibitions, wrote numerous publications, and visited Africa in 1974 and 1981. She interacted with a broad social milieu that extended from village artisans to African nobility, world-renowned artists, Hollywood movie stars, iconic statesmen, and U.S. presidents.
Upon retirement, Lydia pursued her lifelong love of travel and volunteered at the Robbins Center for Cross-Cultural Communication. She and Robbins married in 2008. Upon his death, she oversaw the distribution of the center’s holdings to museums and HBCUs.