After the “January” landscape show I realized that landscape painting served as respite time for me.   I had an understanding about anatomy, movement, and how to achieve “likeness.”  So non-traditional portraiture seemed a good fit for my drawing and painting time which was now shrinking.  Family responsibilities were upon us – parenting four who were at different stages of growth. I decided to paint what was before me – the family.   We could see family as we had known it for so many years, coming to an end.  The kids were heading out, no question about it.

Some days, I asked our daughters and son to sit, stand, or as I put it, “freeze” for me until I could run and get a pencil.  Other days, drawing a portrait provided an excuse to talk a problem over that one of the kids had.  When no one was around and I needed to practice portrait skills, I set up the children’s soft toys from their childhood that had been put away long ago.  These paintings were exhibited as “The Family – In Transition” in 1983 at the pediatric clinic, University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison.

“Friends and Family” came the following year after “The Family-in Transition.”  The sitters financed materials for paintings and framing, and then became owners of their portraits after the show.  Words are helpful even as they limit.  In the previous show I had thought about “family” and how it would change.  In this show, I thought about “What is ‘family’?” and  “What is ‘friend’?”  It seemed to me in my life the line was blurred.

Many of the sitters came to the opening and met each other and the public.  I stopped doing portraits for exhibition after these two shows.  Modesty aside, I’m good at portraits — more insightful than I consciously intend to be.   Although both I and the sitter gave full consent to the portrait experience and exhibition (title and all), there were pointed surprises, or should I say, surprises that were pointed — surprises that had painful points on them.  What I’m saying is I have a good eye for what’s key even though I don’t know why it’s key.  The sitters did know themselves in their hearts. They weren’t happy to see portrayed in an art show that which I hadn’t even consciously seen and didn’t intend to draw public attention to.   Embarrassing remarks were made to some of the sitters, and I felt bad about that.  I was the one who could put a stop to that.  I still do portraits but they reside in people’s homes and are under their control.

(No pictures to be posted for this series of paintings.)

It was 1980,  and I was fresh out of art school.  My husband and I were busy and on overload with people responsibilities.  One day we shucked it all,  got a sitter and went for a January drive in the country.

My husband drove on automatic pilot as I sat in the passenger seat with a sketchbook in my lap.  In an hour or so, we both relaxed.  I looked out the window, noticing a horizon and recorded from memory that which I had glanced at.  It took a minute or so and when I looked up and out the window I noticed something on the horizon, so I added that to my landscape.  When that was duly recorded as both a tree and a scribble, I looked up for more landscape elements to add.  And on and on. (I had a belief that all of life, at its center, can be represented by its own unique scribble.  You just have to sense the sort of scribble that is before you.)

“Good Winter Driving Conditions”

When I had a composition, I turned the page and started another composite landscape.  And that was how the day went except for stopping at diners.  It was a wonderful day together.  My husband was intrigued with my “method” and at one point playfully challenged me to think fast, driving through rapidly changing landscape, around hairpin turns, up and down hills.  My hand had to move fast!  I laughed as I turned page after page, each drawing more scribbly than the last.

“Joy Ride”

A mid winter day joy ride was the occasion for my first show in Monroe. Wi.

I was still learning and fine tuning my own style.  For the paintings which were presented late winter of the same year (1980), I traced my sketch book drawings on watercolor paper and embellished with acrylic paint and pencil.  (In time, I would leave both tracing and acrylic behind.)

January is my most difficult month, with so little sun, short days, and so much cold.  My goal for the show was, “If I could see the good in January, I was confident I could see the good in any thing I turned my attention towards.”   I wanted to take what I saw as a constructive attitude as a professional artist.  So the show was a way of testing myself.

My earliest memories – after I gained freedom to wander the neighborhood each day – were my visits to construction sites.  There was a post World War II construction boom going on in Washington, D.C.  Nearly every neighborhood had empty lots that were being excavated for new homes.  Conveniently, two houses went up slowly and surely in the woodsy lot across the street from us.  I spent many days and weeks watching the patient, repetitive efforts of the crews of workers.  I got to know each person by name and they, me.  The workers that pulled up in dusty trucks each day were exotic to me and their collaborative work ethic was totally different from my own family of artists and intellectuals.  These guys had a specific job to do; they did it and got back in their trucks and drove away.  Those workers participated in building something, brick by brick, that would last.  That caught my imagination and stayed with me over the years.

I continued to visit construction sites as a mother and took the kids along.  Their earliest memories are also of visiting construction sites.  Then came the angry days of women’s liberation and I found I was no longer welcome at sites; or maybe it was that the foremen were suspicious that I was a construction firm spy, or some other reason.  Anyway, I no longer felt welcome, so I stopped going for ten years or so.

\"Off Site!\"“Off Site!”

(I came across this image, painted long ago, when I occasionally got booted from construction sites.  I could understand; no hard hat.)

Then, in the nineties, I had an idea.  I would take my sketching materials and sit on the hood of my car.  Who would think me a spy?  Out of those visits came the traveling show, “Construction Sights.”

“Dirty Fingernails”  (This was the piece I started that first day sitting on the hood of my car.  I will admit to you, dirty fingernails was a personal trait of mine.  I was often startled by shrieks from adults, “Look at those fingernails!!”.  Were it not for washing dishes, I would still have this particular carelessness.)

“Breakfast by the Jackhammers” (I combined people from a Washington, D.C., coffee shop with those I saw in Wisconsin.  These drawings are on transparencies, reproduced in different sizes and layers to give the collage depth and to simulate the vibrations, of course.)

“After Hours”

I came to know myself better with this show and realized that I see my own paintings as “watercolor constructions” – whether the subject matter was a construction site or a person sitting reading a book.  The collaborative work ethic, for me, involved including all the parts of myself in the effort.

Myself

My name is Virginia Huber, no middle name other than maiden name.   I came of age when women were seeing themselves as more than homemakers, teachers, and nurses.  My family had begged me to go into art.  “You ought to DO something with it!” my parents would emphatically say.  But I wanted most to be a mother and homemaker.  My father was a writer and musician (piano) and mother dancer (interpretive, free form) – both with classical training.  I didn’t see myself as an artist in addition to homemaker until my late twenties.  Before that I had a lot of hobbies and took drawing and painting classes as what would come to be called “returning adult.”  Actually, there was no returning as such for me, because I had never finished my undergrad program.  I did that in my mid thirties during the day, when the children were at school.

Very shortly I could see that when I needed to express my feelings in painting, I almost always did it in transparencies.  This and other sign posts guided me into watercolor painting.

What comes naturally doesn’t drain the energy.  Teaching came naturally and energized my work in the studio.  I like a balance in life, between art, teaching, family, friends, alone time, work-out time.  The most difficult balance is ensuring enough studio time.  I am protective of my time and kind of territorial in the studio.

Twenty-six page booklet


Re: paper dolls.  My sister Diane and I played that game in our home with the chaos of our family all around us.  It gave us a way to plan how our world would be when we were grown up.   And as I think about it, we were not far off.

It shouldn’t be too surprising to me that when Katrina hit and there was chaos and crying out and no one hearing (Who could do anything about it??!!) that I sat by my television hour by hour and made paper dolls.  Truly, it was horrifying, and paper dolls helped.  This time, I called them “Paper Dolls for Seniors.”  I colored the dolls with magic markers and some shimmers and then took it to our local copy shop after the residents of New Orleans had been moved to what I believed was safety.

Art has served so many functions in my life, in particular, watercolor, drawing, and collage.   But if something happened to my hands so that I couldn’t make the art objects that I do make, I would find some way to make art.

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