Collection Corner: Painting from the Heart
“Edna Hibel…One of the rare painters of our time that has not been influenced by any contemporary movement or style…a highly individual style whose principal ingredients are simplicity, lyricism and poetic impression of emotion… “
– Doris Reno, Miami Herald (1971)
The next time you visit the Callaway home, look for an often overlooked gem: a small painting of a young girl that measures only five inches tall and less than four inches wide. It hangs on a wall in the living room and can be easily missed as visitors quickly pass to the second floor. Fuller, Jr. and Alice cherished her beauty and she still hangs in the very spot they chose for her.
The ethereal oil portrait is painted on a wood base and housed in a gilt frame, and titled simply “Young Girl.” It was painted by Edna Hibel (1917-2014), a well-known American artist who was inspired by the impressionistic works of Mary Cassatt and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Hibel worked in many mediums and frequently featured sensitive portrayals of women and children from around the world.
A native of Boston, Hibel learned to paint at a very young age and graduated from the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts in 1939. In 1940, her alma mater purchased one of her paintings for its permanent collection, making her the youngest artist to be so honored by a major American museum. In her nearly eight decades as an artist, Hibel was very prolific and is quoted as saying, “As a rule, I have 50 paintings going at once…but for every canvas I do, there are thousands I don’t do.” She also created exquisite sculptures in bronze, crystal, and porcelain, but is most well known for her two dimensional drawings, lithographs, and etchings.
Later in life, she moved to Palm Beach, Florida with her devoted husband, Theodore Plotkin. In Florida, Hibel’s art was shown in the Sarasota Gallery of Frank Oehlschlaeger, and it was here that Fuller Jr. and Alice Callaway first encountered her work. The Callaways were familiar with Sarasota and its shops as they owned a condominium at nearby Long Boat Key and visited there often. And it was here that they were smitten with Hibel’s “Young Girl” and became lifelong fans of hers.
The artist’s devotion to the wellbeing of children the world over surely gave the couple even more to admire. Later they purchased a second piece entitled “To Market,” which features a woman carrying a fruit basket on her head. It dignified female work and no doubt they appreciated that Hibel used her art to advocate for peace, women’s rights and humanitarian causes. The Callaway’s admiration and patronage resulted in a personal invitation to the 1977 opening of the Hibel Museum of Art in Palm Beach, Florida, at the time the only museum in the United States dedicated to the works of a living woman artist.
Hibel went on to receive many awards and accolades over her career. Her work is in the permanent collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Detroit Art Institute, Phoenix Art Museum, and Harvard University, among others. She exhibited paintings under the royal patronage of Count and Countess Bernadotte of Germany and Queen Elizabeth II of England and was elected to a fellowship in the Royal Society of Arts in London. During her life, she was featured in nearly 100 solo shows, including displays at London’s Guggenheim Gallery and the Museu Nacional de Belles Arts in Rio de Janeiro.
Despite all the artistic acclaim, Hibel was most proud of her humanitarian and charitable accomplishments. She cherished the International Year of the Child Award in 1981 and the Medal of Honor and Citation from Pope John II in 1983. She would use her artistic skills to raise money for charity and was known as a kind and generous person. A passionate advocate for women’s and children’s rights, she promoted love and understanding throughout the world. Ms. Luci Baines Johnson summed it up best by calling Edna Hibel: “The Heart and Conscience of America.”
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