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Sybil Gibson

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Sybil Gibson
(Dora, Alabama, 1908 - 1995, Dunedin, Florida)

Sybil Gibson was born February 18, 1908 in Dora, Alabama to Monroe Aaron and Lenora Reid Aaron. Her father, Monroe, owned and operated the Sulphur Springs Coal Company; her mother cared for the family of eight children. Though from early childhood she was fascinated by the outlines left in rocks by fossil plants and animals, and often drew in the dirt or on flat rocks with colored pebbles, Gibson never fully explored her artistic interests until middle age. It was during her childhood, however, that her deep love of nature first developed which later grew to become the source of many of her paintings. Gibson grew up in Cordova, Alabama and attended local public schools until she entered a private high school, called Rivers Academy, in Athens, Alabama. When she graduated from high school in 1929, she married her high school sweetheart, Hugh Gibson, who worked as a bill collector in Jasper, Alabama. The marriage lasted only six years, and with her father's encouragement, Gibson divorced her husband, left her daughter with her parents, and returned to school.

Gibson attended several Alabama colleges and took a wide variety of classes, including such diverse subjects as biology and aeronautical engineering. She eventually earned a bachelor of science degree from Jacksonville State Teachers College in Jacksonville, Alabama (now Jacksonville State University), and began teaching in her hometown of Dora, Alabama. Gibson moved to Florida in the late 1940s because of a sinus condition, teaching at Fort Myers and Palm Beach before settling in Miami. Around 1950, she married David DeYarmon and began teaching fourth grade in Hialeah, Florida. When DeYarmon died in 1958, Gibson decided to take time off from teaching.

Gibson's art career began several years later in November of 1963. Inspired by Christmas wrapping paper she had seen in a department store, Gibson decided to try and make her own. She went home and began working with the materials she had at hand, namely paper grocery bags and tempera paints. During the course of that afternoon she produced eleven paintings. From then on, Gibson continued to paint prolifically, predominantly on brown-paper grocery bags, though she also occasionally used newspaper and cardboard. The original subjects of her paintings were her childhood memories of animals and flowers, though she later included memories of the children she had taught and other aspects of her life. Encouraged by the praise of family and friends, Gibson showed her work to local galleries and shops, and managed to sell several paintings for prices between six and ten dollars.

Over the course of the next few years, Gibson became so wrapped up in her painting that she began to neglect her finances, her health, and her relations with family and friends. Though she had a fairly steady income during the late 1950s and early 1960s, by the late 1960s Gibson was almost completely impoverished and had lost contact with her family. In contrast, during the same period Gibson's art had slowly been gaining both local and national recognition through a series of small gallery shows. Gibson's first major one-woman exhibition was mounted in 1968, at the Miami Museum of Modern Art, under the direction of Bernard Davis, museum president. Gibson seems to have been actively involved in the early plans for the exhibit and contributed an autobiographical sketch for the catalog. In 1971, however, when the museum arranged a second show of her paintings, Gibson could not be found. She had apparently left Miami without a trace in 1969 after being evicted from her apartment; a friend who visited her around that time had found her home empty and her paintings strewn all over the yard.

Approximately a month after a review of the Miami Museum show appeared in The Miami Herald , titled "Sybil Gibson, Artist, Where Are You?", a reporter with The Birmingham News discovered that Gibson was living in Birmingham on the income from a small pension and occasional sales of her paintings. She apparently had become homesick for Alabama in 1969 when her troubles in Miami reached their peak. During the 1970s and much of the 1980s, Gibson moved back and forth between Florida and Alabama, often living with relatives and selling her artwork to make ends meet. By the late 1980s, she was completely blind due to cataracts and complications from diabetes, and had stopped painting. In 1991, Gibson's daughter, Theresa Buchanan, had her moved to a nursing home in Dunedin, Florida and her cataracts were removed, partially restoring her sight. Almost immediately, Gibson began painting again and worked up until a few months before her death on January 2, 1995.

Margaret Bullock, October 24, 1996

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