You can't say that people don't know her art, and that's putting it lightly. Local artist Judy Niebergall is a celebrity of sorts; one quick look around the Godfrey Dean Art Gallery confirms it. During her Fearless Explorer exhibit, there are throngs of art lovers; the hall is wall-to-wall packed with people. This isn't anything new for Niebergall. All her showings are like this. The well-loved artist sat down with Yorkton This Week to talk about her remarkable 50 years of art.
Known for her vivid hues in watercolour, Niebergall takes her inspiration from a wide variety of subjects. By no means does she work exclusively in watercolour. As part of her remarkable career in the visual arts, the Gallery put on an exhibit of her extensive portfolio.
“Well, Don [Stein, of the Godfrey Dean Gallery] asked me to do a retrospect of different kinds of work I've done throughout my life, and he came out to the farm and picked out what he wanted. [He] made a few trips to gather up what he wanted. He also just curated the whole show and put it all together. I didn't have anything to do with that part of it. He is an expert at it, and he did a good job at it.
“I painted since I was young at home. At Christmastime, my parents asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I said paint by number because that was the only way I could get paint,” she laughed.
“Then, I'd paint very thin paint with [the] paint by number so I'd have paint leftover to do my own thing. I liked the acrylic paint, but I also like watercolour and I've explored a lot of other mediums, too. Ink, and pastels. I just like to try everything.
Watercolour in particular, however, is something that this artist gravitates toward.
“I just like the flow of the watercolour and you can tip your paper in different ways to attach it to a board. For example in the one [painting] with the fish, the water looks like it's running down the page. It's just experimenting with a lot of different mediums and mixing up my own paint from pigments. It's just really been a lot of fun.
Inspiration for her art comes from close to home, too.
“Life on the farm. I've explored different kinds of ideas. Just, life in general and I know I like to have a sense of humour about it. I started the penguin cartoons, and painting watercolours and going to craftshows. I really enjoyed the craft shows. I enjoyed the craft shows so much, there were so many nice people, in three different provinces and I got to be friends with them. It was a lot of fun going to craft shows. I would trade my work for pottery, and stuff like that. That's what artists do, at the end of a show. They trade what they do – trade somebody's work for something they don't do. It just was a really fun way to do things and it worked out really well with farming because we farmed all summer and we had all winter to go to craft shows and meet people. It was a lot of work though, for my husband,” she laughs.
“Carrying boxes for everybody. But he never complained, ever, and we tried to build a stand a few times. The first time I had a show in Yorkton, it was in the street here – and we had a street fair. Somebody said, 'Well, why don't you go to Regina with this art?' So, we packed up the paintings and we framed, packed all this up and we got there. But because we didn't know what we were doing, we didn't take a stand. We didn't take anything to hang the paintings on! So we hung them on what was a wire fence, that we were allowed, so we hung them on the fence. Got the job done, and I sold lots of paintings that day. It really encouraged us to keep on going, and like I say, I couldn't have done it without my husband helping me all along the way. Carrying all this stuff, and hanging, and bringing it all home. I met so many nice people.
“Then, I was asked to do all these private shows in houses in Regina. Did that for a while, too. Then we started going to different places and meeting people. You know, it's been good.”
Support has also been crucial.
“[With this exhibit], so many people came in the cold weather. Because I've lived here almost all my life, I know a lot of people. They're wonderful people, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
“For me, it's perfect, living on the farm. Driving is easy here. When we lived in Calgary, I used to drive in Calgary but we went back on the farm. There's no way I'd drive in Calgary now because of the weather changes, the fast traffic.”
What's next for Niebergall is a special permanent exhibit.
“I thought what I'd like to do with my paintings, because if your house is full, it's hard to add on – I spent a lot of time with my mother and my mother in law when they were in the nursing home, and there's a room. They have a long hallway and we'd walk up and down [this hallway]. You know, when you go, it's where they take [the residents] for exercise. They have this wall, called 'Artist Lane'. But there's only five pictures in it, and it never changed. They were done by somebody I know, but he just left them there; he was in one of my classes. So I went, you know, I'm going to fill that hallway up with paintings so that people that live there and people that visit, have somewhere to go and talk about the paintings. If I keep them, it's sort of, I don't just paint for myself. I'm not just decorating my house. I'm painting because I paint. And if the house is full of paintings, what am I going to do with them? So, I thought I would really like to that with them. I did talk quite a while ago with one of the directors there, and she said 'We would love to have those paintings.' “