For Bitterroot artist Bobbie McKibbin, each finished piece is truly a work of gratitude.
“The upshot is that I’ve been very lucky throughout my life and also unlucky,” she said.
McKibbin, whose exhibition of pastel landscapes is on display at the Radius Gallery in downtown Missoula through Feb. 22, was born with very thin, undeveloped retinas in her eyes. Over the course of her life, she has undergone 10 different procedures to maintain her ability to see, including a nine-hour operation shortly after finishing graduate school.
“You can well imagine that sight is something we all cherish, but being an artist it’s even more so,” she said. “Each one of those drawings is a celebration that I can still see.”
McKibbin said her fascination with the Western landscape that dominates the “Second Sight” exhibition started at a young age.
“Before the Internet, my brother had a toy called a View-Master, with discs of photos of Yellowstone National Park, the Tetons, the Badlands. I thought, living in Philadelphia, how exciting, but I’ll never travel to see those things,” she said.
After earning her Masters of Fine Arts degree, she taught at Grinnell College in Iowa for more than three decades. Most of her students were taking just a single art course required of them, and McKibbin had to decide what, with so little time, was the one thing she wanted them to get out of the class.
“What I told them was I was going to teach them to see. To experience the world more broadly,” she said.
After retiring, McKibbin moved to the Bitterroot Valley where she set up a studio, Drawn West. The naming comes from her slow move across the country, from growing up near the East Coast to college in Ohio to working in Iowa and settling down in Montana.
The Radius Gallery exhibition, her first solo gallery showing there, is a set of new pieces mostly drawn in the past two years, featuring scenes from Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon National Park, and her own home in the Bitterroot. McKibbin has previously had her work exhibited at the Missoula Art Museum, as well as galleries across the United States.
The move west presented the artist with new challenges attempting to capture the sheer scale of the landscape.
“Living in Iowa for 31 years, there’s a lot of corn and soybeans to draw, and a lot of country roads,” McKibbin said.
Next to her artwork, Radius has set up a table where gallery visitors can try out the same type of dry pastels McKibbin uses in her artwork.
On Friday, Jan. 23, McKibbin will be visiting Radius Gallery from 5:30-7 p.m. for an artist’s demonstration where she will draw with her pastels in front of the public.
“I’ll draw for a while, talk about how I work with pastels and take questions, then draw for a while longer,” McKibbin said.
All of the scenes McKibbin are actual places she has visited. McKibbin takes her own photos that she uses as references while working on a new piece.
“I’ve been there, I’ve felt the sun or the cold or I’ve smelled the sulphur from Yellowstone,” she said. “The photo is a reference to trigger all of those senses.”