Margaretta Gilboy | Soul Work

Starry Night, watercolor/charcoal, 22 x 18
Starry Night, watercolor/charcoal, 22 x 18

By Devon Jackson


The imagery isn’t especially controversial: boots, shoes, rocking horses, puppets, scarves, and flowers, one object often overlapping another. The perspective may be off, but not so off that it’s surreal. The colors are intense and the forms are often cropped, but neither element so overwhelms any other that the paintings veer into the abstract. And while they may borrow from the works of other great artists—the cut-paper collages of Henri Matisse, the fantasies of Marc Chagall, the dusky pigmentations of El Greco—Margaretta Gilboy’s paintings have a pull that is hers alone.

“What’s in my paintings may be very inaccessible for most people, but the point is the conjunction of how things look together,” says Gilboy from her home in Denver, CO. “It’s about the energy of the form. Things are buoyant, spatially buoyant.”

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Gilboy, now 64, seemed destined for a life in art. “I got a lot of encouragement growing up in a city as artistic as Philadelphia was back then,” says the artist, whose parents took her to a museum or the library every weekend. Her mother, who had a strong musical background, worked as a bookkeeper, and her father worked as a writer and translator. Fluent in both French and German, and author of a WPA-commissioned history of Pennsylvania, her father spent most of his career as a reluctant clerk for the Signal Corps. Gilboy also had an uncle, an architect, who painted in his spare time; his watercolors were always on display at Gilboy’s grandparents’ house.

In addition to her culturally rich home life, Gilboy benefited from an academic environment that was equally stimulating. At the prestigious Philadelphia High School for Girls, whose graduates include Hollywood attorney Gloria Allred, author Bebe Moore Campbell, and opera singer Marietta Simpson, she focused on art, English, and writing. As good as her art instructors were, Gilboy briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a librarian.
Part of that desire had to do with her strong sense of identification with and loyalty to her father and his unfulfilled writing aspirations; most of it, though, owed to the profound influence exerted on Gilboy by Frankie Rubinstein. A mentor to Gilboy both during high school and long after, Rubinstein, a slightly irreverent woman who authored A Dictionary of Shakespeare’s Sexual Puns and Their Significance, served as a role model to Gilboy and many other Girls girls for what an intelligent, creative woman could aspire to and achieve.

But when the Philadelphia College of Art offered her a free ride for all four years, Gilboy jumped at the chance…

Featured in June 2007

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