A GLIMPSE PAST HER STU­DIO

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos - Michael Abatemarco For The New Mex­i­can

Lit­tle ref­er­ence in­for­ma­tion is avail­able on Teal McKibben. For an artist who de­voted her­self daily to her work from the 1950s into the 21st cen­tury, who was once fea­tured as one of the nation’s most tal­ented young artists in an early is­sue of Art in Amer­ica, there are no mono­graphs and few ar­ti­cles that dis­cuss her work as a painter. As the de­tails of her life emerge, through the rec­ol­lec­tions of those who knew her, so too emerges a por­trait of an artist who was pri­vate, who was mod­est when it came to show­ing her own work, but who re­vealed in her largescale pas­tel draw­ings an in­te­rior world to which few were privy.

Her draw­ings are fea­tured in Owls in the Fam­ily, an ex­hi­bi­tion of her work at La Bo­heme on Canyon Road. The gallery is the for­mer lo­ca­tion of McKibben’s own shop, La Bodega, which was at the front of her home and stu­dio. La Bo­heme is owned and op­er­ated by her sons, Nathan and Sam Bud­off, and Sam’s wife, Mar­garet Beat­tie, who to­gether man­age McKibben’s es­tate. Within this build­ing, McKibben cre­ated enig­matic draw­ings and hooked rugs that doc­u­mented the rooms — places out­siders sel­dom saw — that housed her per­sonal col­lec­tions. “Teal would say, ‘I draw to stay alive,’ ” Beat­tie told Pasatiempo,“ and look­ing at her draw­ings, you be­lieve it.”

The at­ten­tion to de­tail in her work and the metic­u­lous doc­u­ment­ing of her broad range of ob­jects — in­clud­ing African sculp­ture, Kuna fig­urines from Panama, Hopi kachina dolls, and folk arts from Mex­ico — all sug­gest that McKibben had a pas­sion for ethno­graphic art that bor­dered on ob­ses­sion. What you see in the draw­ings — strange fig­urines care­fully ar­ranged on shelves or hung from walls — were the ob­jects McKibben sur­rounded her­self with. “She painted what she saw,” said state folk­lorist Claude Stephen­son, a close friend of McKibben’s. “She wasn’t ab­stract at all.” Owls in the Fam­ily pairs her draw­ings with the ac­tual ob­jects rep­re­sented in her works, in the ex­act same ar­range­ments. The viewer can com­pare the verisimil­i­tude of the Ver­acruz dance masks and Co­chití Pue­blo ce­ram­ics that are de­picted in Clown­ing, one of the pas­tel draw­ings, with the three-di­men­sional ob­jects them­selves. The vi­brancy and life McKibben in­vested in these ob­jects lends them per­son­al­ity and el­e­vates them out of the realm of mere items of cu­rios­ity.

But in her days as an artist in the 1950s, McKibben’s work was very dif­fer­ent. Al­though they were rep­re­sen­ta­tional, her early works were painted in an Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ist style. Born in Iowa in 1928 and raised in Hawaii, where she grad­u­ated high school, McKibben stud­ied art at The Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico. Af­ter rais­ing her fam­ily in Mas­sachusetts, where she con­tin­ued paint­ing and ex­hibit­ing her work, she set­tled per­ma­nently in Santa Fe in the late 1970s. Here, her artis­tic am­bi­tions, while never ceas­ing, took a sig­nif­i­cant turn. No longer

Teal McKibben

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