A GLIMPSE PAST HER STUDIO
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