The newly released art book, “Michael Gibbons – Painting in Nature,” carries a dedication by Brian Ferriso, executive director and chief curator of the Portland Art Museum.
“The power of a great artist is to help us see more of what is directly in front of us and in doing so provide a visual residue that we carry throughout our daily lives,” he wrote. The new book, released earlier this month at the late artist’s gallery and the Yaquina River Museum of Art, both in Toledo, fulfills that mission — and portrays the power of Gibbons’ art.
Gibbons, who died in July 2020, painted the Yaquina River landscape for over 40 years, leaving a legacy of art that speaks to the beauty and importance of nature. James Nelson, project manager for the book and curator of the Yaquina River Museum, calls the book a “significant tribute to Michael’s lifetime commitment of creating paintings that not only capture the beauty of our land, but also its ‘spiritual voice.’”
“People who thought they knew Michael are very surprised with what the book says about how he felt when he painted,” Judy Gibbons said. “It’s revealing for most people, particularly about his spirituality, which really carried him through and supported him in what was a solitary vocation.
“He said he talked to God all day long when he painted, and when he was outdoors painting, God would talk to him,” she said. “And when he’d go into his studio to paint — in the Old (Methodist) Church in Toledo — he would pray and thank God.”
She added that his spirituality is reflected in the fact that when he renovated the former church to serve as his studio, he installed a crucifix and cherubic angels near the roof beams.
Judy said the book is a tribute to her late husband’s life and work and to showing the “voice of nature” in his plein air (painted outdoors) paintings.
She recalled that the idea for the book arose about 10 years ago. “Michael wanted to write a book about himself, and began writing a memoir,” she said. While nothing came of his writing at the time, he continued to write, and during a visit from The Greenbrier Companies owner Bill Furman about a month before Gibbons’ death, the subject of a retrospective in Portland came up in a conversation with Judy.
“But it was too late to do that,” said Judy, who noted Michael had suffered several strokes by then. But it wasn’t too late for a book.
“Bill said, ‘let’s do it,’ and he told Michael he’d make sure the book would happen,” Judy said. “If I hadn’t reminded Bill that Michael always wanted to do a book on his art, this might never have happened.”
The book includes 160 full color paintings, as well as articles and memories about Gibbons’ life and art. It is offered in two formats — a Premier Edition and a Collector’s Edition.
Judy is pleased with the book and its “very special touches.” It is hand-bound to open flat, has pull-out sections, its pages are coated so fingerprints do not show, and the cover features gold leaf on the Collector’s edition and silver leaf on the Premier edition. The project took about 18 months to complete.
“I think Michael would be pleased,” Judy said, adding she hopes the book is a way for more people to be able to afford Gibbons’ art. “I hope the book reaches the larger community of people who are interested in art, particularly Michael’s art. It’s a stunning presentation and a real treasure.”
The book also could further the late artist’s long-held goal of bringing more artists and art lovers to Toledo. She praised the Yaquina River Museum of Art, which she and Gibbons founded, for its continuing support and for making it possible for people to donate because of its nonprofit status.
“The museum is a major part of continuing his legacy, first with a traveling exhibit of his work, then with a video, and now with the book,” Judy said. “The untiring devotion of its board of directors and volunteers over 19 years has made all of this possible.”
When CJ Drake was traveling to his job interview for the post of communications and public affairs manager at the Georgia-Pacific mill in Toledo in July 2015, he came across the “Arts District” sign as he entered the city.
“I wasn’t expecting to encounter that sign, so I turned in and saw the ‘open’ sign at the Michael Gibbons gallery,” he said. Judy and Michael Gibbons were the first people he met in Toledo, and they soon became good friends.
“The first time I recall speaking to Michael about the possibility of publishing a book on his work was in the summer of 2018,” Drake said. “He was in his studio finishing a painting for Gunderson Marine, and I looked around at all the artwork, and then saw Michael’s journal, written in his own handwriting. I asked him if he’d ever thought of putting together a book.
“One of the things that struck me about that journal and the typed pages of his unpublished memoir is how honestly and carefully he chose his words, both when speaking and writing,” he said. “And that was reflected in his careful and precise handwriting. He chose his words with the same care as he chose his paint.”
Among the book’s photos is a 1985 painting of the Georgia-Pacific Toledo mill. “Michael wanted Toledo to be known as more than a mill town,” Drake said. “He was always looking for beauty, and his painting made the mill beautiful. He loved to depict industrial scenes in their natural setting. The painting of the mill is the ultimate of that.”
Drake said the last time he talked about the book with Michael was at the holidays in 2019. “We were having dinner and we toasted 2020 as the year of making the book reality,” he recalled. “I remember Michael blessing the idea, and that caused the rest of us to work on the book.” And Judy said she likes to think that in Michael’s final months, he knew the book was going to happen.
Drake said the book celebrates the life of a wonderful artist who, in one of Gibbons’ favorite phrases, bloomed where he was planted.
Contents of both editions of the book are the same. The Collector’s Limited Edition, priced at $125, has a gold leaf cover and includes a giclee print of one of Gibbons’ drawings from England, suitable for framing. Free shipping is also included. Cost of the Premier Edition is $50, plus $10 shipping. A total of 500 copies were printed. Judy said the books are selling quite well, and she is heartened by the response.
Those interested in purchasing the book may contact Judy Gibbons at 1-541-336-2797, visit the Michael Gibbons Signature Gallery at 140 NE Alder St., in Toledo from noon to 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays or email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The gold leaf edition is available at the gallery; the silver leaf is offered by hosting sponsor Yaquina River Museum of Art at 151 NE Alder St., Toledo, weekends from noon to 4 p.m., 1-541-336-1907.