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Faces - The Mirror to the Soul

The Self Taught Art of Sybil Gibson

by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder

Sybil Gibson was born in Alabama on February 18, 1908. The daughter of a prosperous mining family, she was well educated and grew to become an elementary school teacher. In the 1940s, Sybil moved to Florida but it was not until 1963 (when she was in her fifties) that she began painting.

Over the next 30 some years she produced an abundance of art.

What strikes me most about her paintings are the faces. So many faces. Sybil also painted animals and flowers, but it is her portraits which leave you with a feeling of loss and of a lady who was trying to cope with life around her.

Sybil did not lead a happy life. It is evident that her marriage failed not once, but twice and she left her only daughter to be raised by her parents. Even though she was a troubled soul, Sybil had a lot to offer. She produced a series of paintings with tempera paint on damp grocery bags. She found that this affordable canvas was great to work on and readily available. Like most natural folk artists she used the materials that were available to her.

Unfortunately a number of Sybil Gibson's paintings were lost to the elements. She had a habit of disappearing from time to time and when she moved on, she simply left her paintings behind.

In 1971 the Miami Museum of Modern Art gave Sybil a one-woman show. Although well received, not many of her works were sold. Shortly after, she moved back to Alabama and in 1981, entered a home for the elderly. By that time, her sight was beginning to fail and so her daughter Theresa Buchanan, arranged for her return to Florida for a cataract operation which restored her deteriorating sight. Sybil then moved into a home for the aged in Florida, close to her daughter, where she painted until her death.

Sybil Gibson died January 2, 1995. She was eighty-six.

Today, Sybil's work is included in the permanent collections of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Alabama; the Museum of American Folk Art, New York and the New Orleans Museum of Art in Louisiana. Some called her eccentric ... but really, aren't most artists? All creative souls leave something behind and for Sybil it was her portrait-like images, created with honesty and simple beauty.

Text © Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder; Photos Reprinted with Permission

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