Libby Momberg
  • Des Moines
  • interviewed 3-11-1999
  • painting

about the artist

Elizabeth "Libby" Momberg was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1930. She grew up in Omaha, then moved when she was 13, to Ames, Iowa. She was the youngest of four children. She attended college at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. She was divorced, and has five grown children. She had her own interior design business, and painted in watercolor and oil. After a struggle with cancer, Libby died in May 2009.

top

LIBBY MOMBERG

artwork | audio | 2008 update | first-person narrative

artwork

Farm on NW 44th © Libby Momberg | All Rights Reserved

Irises from My Garden © Libby Momberg | All Rights Reserved

My Garden © Libby Momberg | All Rights Reserved

Wheat Field © Libby Momberg | All Rights Reserved

audio audio

(see also Making Art in Iowa)

top

2008 update

Everything is the same with one exception—I don't have a gallery. I had bad luck with one and had health issues that went on for two years. I have sold several paintings however.

My paintings have changed in that I am painting on smaller wrapped canvases and using a palette knife.

Since the last interview my design business has scaled down and, having been ill, I haven't painted as much.

I am still inspired by nature—landscapes, flowers, trees, gardens. There is also that inner push that says I have to paint the beauty of the world.

top

audio text

Early art

My mother kind of pushed the art, as I recall. I don't know why, but she did. I loved painting in college, but I never took it seriously. I wanted to get married and have a family, and so I didn't ever think of it as being a special thing in my life, but I enjoyed it. 'Course when I had my family I didn't have a lot of time, but after a while it got to the point where I took time. It was really important to me then.

back to audio | top

Starting again

When my kids started—you know, I needed to entertain them—we would sit and draw or color or do things like that. I think the big thing was after my fifth child was born, that's when my doctor suggested that I go take some lessons and get out of the house and do things like that. She was right; very, very right. That was what I needed to do. It was probably about 1961 or something like that when I really got involved again. And then I did start to go to the Art Center.

And in '74, I had to go to work and bring in some money to help the family. So it was really painful to have to stop. I still painted somewhat at that point, but I had to stop taking classes. I went back a couple times, but it just never was the same. I always loved taking those classes.

back to audio | top

Design work

I started helping down at Standard Glass and Paint. After a few months, my boss decided to retire, so they made me the manager. So I stayed there. I enjoyed my job there a lot; it was a lot of fun. And it was funny, because I kind of caught on to everything so easily. I couldn't believe it! After being at home with all those kids all those years, I was surprised that I seemed to understand paint and stain and everything; it just came naturally. Then the big boss—the owner—decided to sell out, and so it was a good opportunity for me to work out of my home on my own.

I feel like my artwork has helped with the design work, because doing a room is kind of like painting a picture, so I think they work together.

back to audio | top

Painting

I used to do some very abstract work in acrylic paints, and one day I just got tired of doing that. And yet sometimes I'd like to use that again, because I liked some of the paintings I did. But now things are more realistic and I like to paint what I see.

I know a lot of people think it's stupid to paint flowers, but I just think they're so beautiful, and enjoy them, and so therefore I paint them. I go out in the country and see things I like and I want to paint them—I want to put it down.

back to audio | top

Making art

I'm very thankful because if there's ever a time when I feel alone or anything, that's all I have to do is think about doing [art]. And I just feel very fortunate that I have that to keep me doing something interesting. Because I feel like I could paint and paint and paint and paint—and waste a lot of paper!

I read something that I think is so true: that when an artist is painting, it's beyond human happiness. And that's true. I couldn't go any place and be that happy.

back to audio | top

first-person narrative

Beyond Human Happiness

edited from interview | copyright © 2003–2014 Jane Robinette | All Rights Reserved

I'm very thankful that I am an artist, because if there's ever a time when I feel alone or anything, all I have to do is think about doing that. I just feel very fortunate that I have that to keep me doing something interesting. Because I feel like I could paint and paint and paint and paint—and waste a lot of paper!

top

*

My mother kind of pushed the art, as I recall. She probably had a flair for art. She didn't paint or anything like that, but she did some sewing and embroidering. She embroidered draperies sometimes. And she used wallpaper creatively, and color. When we moved to Ames, we had a lovely home, and she did some beautiful things. That left quite an impression on me.

I was very quiet, because being the fourth child I was pretty well intimidated by everybody. And I was afraid I was going to do something wrong, afraid I was going to say something wrong, and be put down. So I just kept my mouth shut. I guess I was a pretty good little girl. I liked to color a lot, as I recall.

top

*

I went to college for two years: Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. My mother chose it. I'd never heard of it in my life. All of a sudden, I was on a bus to Stephens College. I took painting and drawing. First year, I think it was just drawing. Then you could take painting if they selected you the next year. It was fun. I enjoyed that a lot. And of course, I took interior design. I took fashion design and sewing, and home ec. I just loved to do art. But I never dreamt that it was anything that was going to develop into anything. I just did not see myself as an artist, I guess. I never took it seriously. I wanted to get married and have a family, and so I didn't ever think of it as being a special thing in my life, but I enjoyed it.

When I came back, I worked in my dad's store for awhile, and then I got married and started having babies. When my children were growing up, the minute I could put a crayon in their hand we'd sit and color for entertainment, and I really enjoyed that with them. After my fifth child was born, that's when my doctor suggested that I go take some lessons and get out of the house and do things like that. She was right; very, very right. That was what I needed to do. Probably about 1961 or something like that—that's when I really got involved again.

First, I took from Marsha Shuler. Then Cornelis, Jules Kirschenbaum's wife, had me come over and paint with her for awhile. It was only a few months. She wouldn't let me pay her. She said, "We're just going to paint together, that's all." She had her garage fixed up, and it was attached, but she had to disband in the winter months. Somehow we didn't get back together, and I'm kind of sorry about that. I'd love to go back and paint with her some more. I did start to go to the Art Center after that.

In '74, I think, is when I had to go to work and bring in some money to help the family. So it was really painful to have to stop. I still painted somewhat at that point, but I had to stop taking classes. I always loved taking those classes.

top

*

I started helping down at this Standard Glass and Paint; they had wallpaper and paint. Then after a few months, my boss decided to retire, so they made me the manager, so I stayed there. I enjoyed my job there a lot. It was a lot of fun. It was funny, because I caught on to everything so easily. I couldn't believe it after being at home with all those kids all those years. I was surprised that I seemed to understand paint and stain and everything; it just came naturally. Then the owner decided to sell out.

The people that bought it decided to continue it. Eventually, though, they moved it downtown into a huge store, and it was altogether different. It wasn't fun anymore. It was a good opportunity for me to work out of my home on my own. I work a lot, but I can call my own hours, usually. I do not advertise and I do not put my name in the yellow pages or the business section. I've had enough business to keep me going.

Doing the job I do, too, a lot of the time it's happy. But not always, because it's business, too. I've always felt that I really wanted to paint, period, and not do the other. But now I really have enjoyed a lot of my work, and not sure I want to give it up. I love the fabrics and all the beautiful designs. I can get carried away with that, too.

top

*

The consulting and my painting are pretty much tied into each other. I feel like my artwork has helped me with the design work, because you can visualize. Doing a room is kind of like painting a picture, so they work together. I had visions of being able to paint a lot more, and that didn't work out that way exactly. I still paint a lot, and I love to paint. I'd like to paint more; I'd like to have more time to concentrate on it. I would like the time just to spend to really think about it, and do some larger things.

I do two hours on Saturdays, when I go out in plein air. And then I usually come home and work on that painting for a couple hours at least. This year, the extra painting I have done was to get ready for a show. I did do a lot of painting then, but other than that, this year I haven't done too much, because I've been busy with this current big job I have.

My daughter lived with me for about a year and a half, so I was painting just in the kitchen and dining room area. Then she moved out and so now I'm trying to turn the room she was in into a studio. I thought I'd buy a drawing table, and put an easel in there. I've painted in there some, but I still end up painting in the dining room. Everything happens in there.

top

*

I don't know if it's good or bad to use your imagination, or if it's better to paint what you see. Before, I was imagining things and putting them down. I used to do some very abstract work in acrylic paints. One day, I just got tired of doing that, and yet sometimes I'd like to use that again, because I like some of the paintings I did. But now, things are more realistic and I like to paint what I see. I usually paint what I like, like flowers. I know a lot of people think it's stupid to paint flowers, but I just think they're so beautiful, and enjoy them, and so therefore I paint them. It's exciting to me. I go out in the country and see things I like, and I want to paint them. I think about it a lot when I'm driving. Like today I drove out to Prairie City to see a client. The hills and the snow—it's really gorgeous out that way.

I just think that there's so much beauty here, even in the winter—especially in the winter, maybe. The trees are bare, and they have such beautiful shapes, and they're all so different. And then the snow can be lovely and creates shadows when it's sunny. And when it's gray, you get a beautiful effect of the blacks and blues and browns, and designs. In the summer it's, of course, the flowers and the beauty. Sometimes the green gets to be a little too much, though. I don't know what you do about that.

I take a thin wash of paint and just do a line drawing—just general line—to make sure I have a composition that is decent. And then I go from there and start filling in with heavier paint. That's the oils. And of course, with watercolors, sometimes I don't draw anything in. So I just start putting the colors in, and trying to make it look decent. It doesn't always come out the way I want it to. Sometimes that's okay, too.

And one oil painting, I took a knife and slashed on the paint that way, and mixed it right on the canvas. That's the way I'd like to be able to paint, is just be able to take a palette knife and put it on. But it's hard to loosen up that much. I mean, when you're looking at something, at least, and you feel like you have to make it like that, then it's hard.

top

*

Don't worry about what anybody thinks, if that's what you really love to do. Just put all you have into that. Try to paint everyday, if you can. It's not always possible. I can't take my own advice. Well, you have to eat, that's the thing. If one thought about it, I suppose I could sell my house and move into somewhere smaller, and not work and try to do that. But it's kind of scary.

I read something that I think is so true: that when an artist is painting, it's beyond human happiness. I mean, you couldn't go out and drink a lot and be that happy. I couldn't go anyplace and be that happy. You become lost in it when you're painting. You're just in another world. Nothing matters except that.

top