The Rickie Report interviewed Edna Hibel in the midst of her numerous 95th birthday celebrations. How many of us know an artist who has made her living solely by selling her artwork?
Along with our staff, we shared the experience with Georgie Duber, a close friend and Michael Metzner, an FAU Honors College student who is collaborating with Edna on a new piece of artwork. Michael Metzner is a Palm Beach County resident and student at the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College at FAU. He is a double major in Biochemistry and Visual Art and currently an Executive Producer for a Short Film, “The Restaurant Job”. The Rickie Report will share more about Michael’s photography in a future post. For more information about his film work go to: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nicholasreichard/the-restaurant-job
TRR: When you enter Edna’s home, you are surrounded by large canvases piled up against the walls, boxes, statues, furniture and an atmosphere that exudes history wherever you look. Edna’s warmth and enthusiasm when visitors arrive is palpable. Oriental carpets of all sizes cover the floors and once we were settled in chairs for this interview, I noticed that on almost every surface of the multiple tables in the room were piles of her sketches, finished drawings and small lithographs. Some will be framed and available for sale at the Hibel Museum on January 14-15th.
EH: Edna begins our visit by thanking Georgie for her latest batch of home made mandel bread. Edna points out that she herself never cooked, not even when raising her family. She told us that “nobody ever let me, not even my mother. They told me I would have more precious time to spend on my painting!”
TRR: It is an honor to be here with you, Edna and exciting to see all of your paintings that are here.
EH: Oh, the honor is mine. I don’t have very many paintings left here, because I gave them all to the (Hibel) Musuem and my kids. The ones in the studio belong to the Museum and I am fixing the frames. “While I’m around, I like to take care of them” she explains.
TRR: It is easy to look around your home and see where you get your inspiration.
EH: “Oh, I have that all the time, it isn’t a problem finding the inspiration. If I look at you, I can see ten different paintings just starting from you”.
TRR: How do you deal with all the images you have in your mind?
EH: I didn’t know enough to be frustrated. I was simple in my thinking and was lucky because I had fantastic teachers just at the age I needed them, starting at about 12. I think that because I was so lucky and enjoyed every minute of them, I never got frustrated with anything.
TRR: Are your children artistsic?
EH: You know, when they are little, they all are! Every little kid is an artist. I didn’t push my children into art because I felt I had no right to. I may have made a mistake. I did take them to museums but I didn’t encourage them to be artists. Early on I got a report from the University of Chicago on how many artists actually made their living from their art. Less than 2% make their living from their art. I’m not talking about teaching or art-related jobs but just producing art. Then I got nervous over that! How could I be one of the less than 2%? I have been lucky in that respect.
TRR: Tell us how you started selling your art work.
EH: My wonderful father died and my mother lost her will to live. We tried to get her interested in doing anything, with no results. In the meantime, a woman who had met me offered us a store in Rockport, MA which is an artists’ colony. The store had been a grocery store, so there was nothing we could use. We borrowed some walls to make divisions and hang my paintings.
My mother had never been in business but we still asked her to help. Her first assignment was to have a sign made. And we asked her to help us fix it up, which she happened to be good at. We didn’t want to scare her, so we told her to just be a “charming hostess”. I told her “Ma, I’ve never had a real exhibit in a gallery and here we’ll have a gallery! It turned out that she was good at everything!” I was 30 and had sold things but had never made much of an effort before. This was a chance to see how I could do.
TRR: Opening a gallery involves more than just the space itself. How did you proceed?
EH: We didn’t know anything about pricing. I had sold a painting to the Boston Museum for $60. The Director sent me a note saying I should come and talk to him because my price was ridiculous because it was so low. The trustees had a good laugh over that! So when we opened the gallery, the prices started at $25 and went to $100. These were original, one-of-a-kind paintings that were framed! I think the frames cost us more. But we were in business!
TRR: This was a real turning point for you.
EH: Tod Plotkin, my husband, said “We have this great talent and it deserves the best effort we can give it right now. The important thing is to give you time to paint. I’m going to do all the chores that you were doing. I’ll take care of the children, shop, and do whatever you were doing. So at least you can have eight hours without stopping to be able to paint.” Enda smiles and says, “that was about the best present I could have ever had”.
So, my mother helped run the gallery and my husband was taking care of everything and I was painting. I was so happy! I never got tired of painting. I may have stopped to eat something or go for a swim, but I never needed a break.
TRR: You were granted artistic freedom and Tod was a stay-at-home father. You were a family ahead of your time!
EH: One of our children was already in college and we still had two boys at home. They were ecstatic to have their father around all the time. It was a novelty!
We had discovered that whatever I painted sold right away. So, if I could paint more, we would be doing fine. And we did real fine because I could concentrate on my work. Until recently I worked seven days a week from 5:00 am – 5:00 pm. I miss it but I shouldn’t say anything because I have enjoyed many wonderful years.
TRR: You still think about paintings you could be doing?
EH: ”I look at the world in paintings. I cannot help it. Wherever I look, I see paintings”.
TRR: What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
EH: It depends on them. Everybody is so differnt. Some people need to study with someone. Other people just need to work by themselves. When I would go to speak to groups, often people would approach me for advice on how to help their child or their sister or their friend who was painting. The only advice I ever gave to anybody was to “frame something”. It doesn’t have to be art, it could be something they wrote. “I lucked out on that one. People would tell me that the shyest child will suddenly greet you at the door urging you to come see their framed work”.
TRR: That is very sage advice. It improves their self esteem and confidence, no matter if it is a child or an adult.
EH: When you give advice you need to be very careful. “I don’t know what you could say that is general that might not hurt somebody. I hesitate about giving the wrong advice. I don’t think an art teacher should work on a student’s piece of art.”
“When I did a little teaching, I found the best thing I could do was to focus on something that is good in the student’s piece, even if it is only a line from here to here. I try to go on the positive. I don’t know how I was taught…I don’t remember”
TRR: How did you start creating art?
EH: I discovered art through pencil drawing when I was nine. I was happy using a pencil. I didn’t know about other materials. By the time I was 12, I was doing portraits using oils and learning about color mixing.
TRR: What medium are you comfortable with?
EH: I made my own egg tempra. Later I found it was easier to use acrylics as underpainting to get the effects I wanted, with an oil overlay. I studied all about the materials that were used by the old masters. “I seemed to be lucky to be ready for whatever I was studying at the time. I always felt so lucky to have that teacher at that specific time.”
TRR: Do you feel your work connects you to something spiritual?
EH: ” I don’t really know what that means, though I am told that my paintings are spiritual.”
TRR: We’re talking about being able to portray a life force beyond the merely physical aspect of what you are painting or seeing. Many people feel that your faces capture some of that spirituality.
EH: “Can I capture spirituality without knowing I do it? Everybody gets told they are this or that and I get told these things. I am delighted to hear them, but I don’t feel they belong to me. But it’s nice.”
TRR: You are very humble, Edna.
EH: “I am not humble. I am realistic!” She chuckles, ” I love what I do and I don’t feel that it is special or I am more special than anyone else who spends their life doing it.”
TRR: How much do you attribute your success to natural ability and how much to being taught?
EH: I was rather old when I started. A teacher asked me if I wanted to something else besides arithmetic. That’s when I discovered ,”well that’s interesting!” The first piece I did was a water color but I never did any after that until I got some of my own watercolors. “Then I went watercolor crazy”! I started at age nine at home. I did the drawings on my own. I had no one to tell me anything at that time. I had a pencil and was thrilled with that. It was enough for me.”
TRR: How did you develop your style?
EH: I never thought much about style. I’ve never really thought about painting in a style except when I studied the earlier Rennaissance artists. Then I would paint something and try to keep in that same style.
TRR: When you produced art for the various plate series, did you feel you had to remain in the same style to maintain the integrity of the series?
EH: Actually, the material influenced my style. That fact that my painting was going to end up in porcelain made me consider what I did. It is not easy to replicate all of the colors in a watercolor or oil pallet into porcelain.
“The first time I was asked to do a plate was by Royal Daulton. They had seen one of my lithographs and called to ask if I would be interested in doing a plate. I must have sounded like a nut! I told them I didn’t know anything about dishes!” So we went to Jordan Marsh, a Boston Department Store, to see what collectors’ plates were like.
Once I saw the plates, I became excited and said “Oh, what a lovely technique. I would like to do that on a plate”. I worked hard to get the right transparency on the plates. I was thrilled with the way the plates turned out, but there were always things I could have done differently. Maybe I could have experimented more with porcelain.
I liked working with a man from Rosenthal China because he never said “no” to me when I wanted to try something new. He knew Rosenthal would make a lot of money on my plates. I suddenly decided that I wanted to do lithographs on porcelain and no one had done it before. He made a fortune!
Of course, for every plate that came out, they had to destroy 6 that were not acceptable in quality. So, it cost a fortune to make, too. At the time, making a porcelain plate from one of my paintings was painstaking work. They had to separate all of the various colors as well as each hue and put it on the plate separately because every color is solid. To get from light blue to dark blue you might have to do fifty different values to get the right blue from the beginning to the end. Giclees take advantage of a similar process.
TRR: Did you have to approve of every plate?
EH: Oh, yes. “I’m a fuss budget” , she chuckled, ” I want it to be the best I can do or else not do it.”
TRR: When we first met, you shared a story about one of the Popes wanting to meet you after seeing your artwork.
EH: The Pope had seen reproductions of some of my paintings and wanted to meet me. He said anybody who caught the human spirit the way I did deserves a medal. He sent me a medal and a lovely letter. I never got to meet him because I didn’t want to take the time away from my painting to go! It was probably foolish but there were a lot of people I would have liked to have met.
TRR: Tell our readers who you would have liked to meet.
EH: I would have loved to have met Einstein. I would have just listened to anything he wanted to talk about. Einstein’s work is art, in its own way. He wrote in a different language.
TRR: We move into Edna’s studio and see what she is working on with Michael. As we walk through the connecting rooms, we see some of the many books written about Edna’s art, a few stones she has started for lithographs, paintings on easels, her limited edition plates, and more sketches. Some of her antiques were acquired by bartering for her paintings.
Michael, Edna, and Rickie
Edna and Michael have been working on the collaborative piece for over a year. After being recognized for his artistic talent at Arti Gras three years ago, Michael had an exhibition of his photographs at the Hibel Museum. Michael has taken over 30 photographs of Edna’s work along with an original photograph of Michael’s. Together, they sat down and digitally placed all of the pieces together and made them into one piece that has been gicleed on canvas.
Edna and Michael’s work in progress
EH: We’ve learned a few things in this process. For example, the head from my art and the head from Michael’s picture were not in proportion, so we needed to fix that. Now we are focusing on the tones. The skin tones don’t have to match, but need to live with each other. And the hair on Michael’s photograph is too dark.
MM: Edna has gone back and painted over some areas and highlighted others with gold leaf. It is still a work in progress. To get the skin tones closer, Edna applied a wash. We’ll use some other glazes to tone things down. We’re trying to maintain a happy medium but we don’t want to lose the contrast and photographic quality.
TRR: We see paint, turpentine, brushes, pastels. What is your preference?
EH: Anything that will work and get the effect I see in my mind is what I will work with.
TRR: We urge our readers, their friends, family, and neighbors, to go to the Hibel Museum located on the campus of FAU in Jupiter. On January 8 from 1-4PM there will be a celebration of Edna’s Birthday with a performance by Jazz Pianist Copeland Davis. Admission to this event is free.
There will be a special art festival, where Edna’s work will be for sale (including some of the pieces we saw during our interview) on Janaury 14-15. There will be special pricing in honor of Edna’s 95th birthday! Hours are Noon – 4:00 pm.
The Cherry Blossom Ball takes place February 17th from 6:00- 9:00 pm. $75 includes dinner and dancing. This is a fundraiser for the museum and also helps fund the Edna Hibel Summer Art Camp Grant to underprivilidged children.
For more information: 561-622-5560 or HibelMuseumofArt@gmail.com
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