Presented by the four libraries of Cape Ann, the group exhibit, Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads, featuring original children’s picture books, is on display at the Rockport Public Library until February 29, 2020. Rockport is the 5th and final stop and hosting a reception on February 29th at 11am. At each venue, a Cape Ann Reads participating artist was invited to create a special temporary installation. Betty Allenbrook Wiberg is the Cape Ann Reads Invited Artist for Rockport. The show is made possible with support including the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation.
BETTY ALLENBROOK WIBERG
Pine needles, foam, playhouses and gnomes – custom family toys, miniatures and games from the artist’s archives and attic spanning 1969-2019
The Invited Artist for the Rockport stop of the travel show Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads is Betty Allenbrook Wiberg, a long-time Rockport artist and resident and former Bearskin Neck gallery owner. Wiberg has installed original toys she’s made over 50 years inside a display case and Children’s Room at the Rockport Public Library. Made by hand with love out of common materials found at home and in nature– like paper, foam core, seeds and acorn caps– these personalized toys were inspired by her children and grandchildren’s favorite books, hobbies and changing interests. In particular she chose examples of characters and worlds brought to life from the pages of books. Wiberg hopes the menagerie of custom toys for those dear to her will engage young and old alike and inspire ideas to try at home with any ready materials at hand.
As Wiberg placed acorn cap people within the display case, she explained how she was aiming for fanciful “haphazard” children’s worlds as when kids play. The red gnomes and stylized forest might blend together with the world of air dry, clay acorn figures, boundaries or not. Painted sculpey villagers parading past tiny painted blocks, a stand in for Bearskin Neck in Rockport, might stop for tea at an outdoor blue chairs circle. An interior scene inspired from Beatrix Potter books is draped with sculpey play food and housewares, set atop tables and hutch, dining seats and floor. Wiberg can’t help but design family directly into these captivating scenes. (The Allenbrook and Wiberg family trees are steeped in the arts.) Charming ephemera associated with loved ones, or expressed as figures and actions, are intrinsically dispersed and personal. A few of the acorn capped musicians were inspired by her son-in-law, a performer and musician. Her mother and daughter Kristy are painted waving from the window of the teeny Bearskin Neck home. A Lilliputian trophy was hers when she was a little girl.
In preparation for this installation, with help from her daughters pulling boxes from the attic and dusting off these cherished family toys, Wiberg recalled a favorite book from her childhood, Maida’s Little Shop (by Inez Haynes Irwin*), and how much she wanted to have a toy shop like the one in that story. With so many creative toys adapted for kids and grandkids spilling across every surface imaginable unearthed and under consideration for this installation, her family didn’t miss a beat. “You do have a toy shop!” they laughed.
“This show has me remembering books,” Wiberg stated. “I’ve never forgotten that that little book arrived in a bushel of books delivered as a gift by artist friends of my parents. Perhaps they were from a library sale. To this day I tend to give other children books, because they’ve had such an impact on me and my daughters.”
Betty Allenbrook Wiberg illustrated the children’s picture book, Little One, written by her eldest daughter, Kirsten Allenbrook Wiberg, which they submitted for the Cape Ann Reads contest. Little One is about a small elephant that struggles with growing up, encounters danger, but survives to live a long life. The story is illustrated with 13-14 pages of Betty’s stunning, full-size black and white images of African wildlife focusing on the small elephant and his/her family. Little One earned a Cape Ann Reads Gulliver Award. Kirsten Allenbrook Wiberg, eldest daughter of Betty, lives in Gloucester where she has maintained her therapeutic body-work practice since 1991.
In addition to the children’s picture book, Little One (included as part of the Once Upon a Contest group show), and these personalized toys she’s shared in public for the first time, examples of Wiberg’s still life and portrait fine art are also on view.
About the Artist
Betty Allenbrook Wiberg was born in London and moved to the United States as a child. She received a fine arts scholarship to attend Boston University, and she completed her formal training at Massachusetts College of Art. She continued to study under her father Charles T. Allenbrook, a well-known portrait artist who resided and worked in Rockport and Florida. In 1957, she married Lars-Erik Wiberg and they settled in Rockport, Massachusetts, where they raised three daughters. Betty created designs for George Caspari Cards, designed fabrics for Bagshaws of St. Lucia, served as an artist in Federal Court, provided artwork for the Hoosac Tunnel documentary, and operated a gallery and studio on Bearskin Neck. Wiberg recalls bags she created for the Rockport Public Library toy check out and drawings of England, local freelance work for the Lions Head Tavern menu at King’s Grant Inn on Rt.128***. She presently maintains a home portrait studio in Rockport. See her artist statement below.
*** bonus photos north shore fun fact: King’s Grant Inn Lion Head’s Tavern menu that Betty Allenbrook Wiberg illustrated
Betty Allenbrook Wiberg artist statement, Feb. 2020
As a youth my family lived in New Rochelle, New York. I remember drawing and painting from an early age and assisting my father at the local art association. We visited Rockport for vacations when I was a child and my father painted the local landscape.
My parents, Margaret and Charles T. Allenbrook bought “the Snuggery” in 1952 on Bearskin Neck and opened Allenbrook’s portrait studio. It had living quarters in the rear and upstairs. When I became more serious about my drawing, I would go out in the studio and draw portraits from my father’s models as they posed for him. This was the way I became comfortable drawing before others. Sometimes I would entertain the children so they would sit better for my father. I used masks and other toys to accomplish this or read them a book. When I was around seventeen I started doing painted silhouettes for a dollar and that was exciting to be earning something with my own efforts. I also helped with framing my father’s work. My father would give me advice and instruction on my efforts and I assembled a portfolio of my work which won me a scholarship to Boston University.
In 1954, I met my husband Lars-Erik Wiberg outside my father’s Rockport studio while he was working on a car. Yes, in those days one could park there. We married in 1957 and lived at the Fish House, 27 Bearskin Neck while I transferred to U Mass Art. After school, I opened a gallery in our home on the Neck. I did silhouettes and sold my fanciful drawings, block prints and other handwork. Later, we expanded the Fish house and had two daughters, Kristy and Margaret. When our third child, Brenda was on the way, we moved to larger quarters at our present location.
My husband made the children a large puppet theater* which sparked a series of handmade puppets of various sorts and materials. The children were eager art explorers and we had costumes and other creative materials ready at hand. We were regular visitors to the local library. I made cloth bags for toys which became a part of what could be borrowed from the Rockport Public Library.
I started doing commission work part time and also did volunteer work. In the 1980s this expanded to part-time work for the TV studios which brought me into another world since I was sketching in courtrooms. Once, I ended up on the sidewalk finishing a sketch, while the reporter waited to grab it and take it into the truck for transmission. It was hastily done and later when I viewed it, I saw they had zoomed in for a tight shot. I was embarrassed to see how careless the work appeared. It was an unnerving experience at times because the culprits were sitting right near the artists while we heard testimony of their serious misdeeds. I had a tongue stuck out at me by one of them and heard others’ lives threatened. My work exceeded the art budget of the TV station during the Angelo trial which went on for over a year.
This all changed when my father passed away in 1988 and I joined my mother at the studio on Bearskin Neck. I was happy to be working closer to home and sometimes could walk downtown to do portraits. It was very nice to spend more time with my mother and be drawing people and children who posed for me instead of trying to catch them from a distance as in the courtroom. Our daughter, Brenda later joined me and drew animal portraits from photos after she graduated from U Mass. art school. We worked together for about three years until 1996 when my parents’ studio was sold and we moved the studio to my home on South Street. Our daughter, Margaret, an art graduate also exhibited her art work and handmade jewelry with us. Over several years, we have had open studios and invited family and visitors to see our endeavors. Lately, this has been dormant but with grandchildren also creating their own art we are considering another open studio. It is a grand way of connecting with others who enjoy creating with various materials and share ours.
Thinking further about this show at the library, and Rockport, I was President of the Friends of the Rockport Library years ago, and also did some art work for them. And I spoke before the local rotary about my courtroom work long ago.
I would very much like to thank Catherine Ryan who has encouraged and inspired me to bring forth my art efforts through the Cape Ann Reads project she created with the local libraries. It has been far more of an adventure then I anticipated and brought many local artist and writing talents to the public through an exhibit at the Cape Ann Museum and the Libraries. I’ve had the opportunity to do a paper craft workshop at the Cape Ann Museum and hope to give one at the local library. Stay tuned in! – Betty Allenbrook Wiberg, February 2020
Betty Allenbrook Wiberg is the Invited Artist for the Once Upon a Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads travel show at the Rockport Public Library venue, February 2020, presented by the four public libraries of Cape Ann with support from the Bruce J Anderson Foundation | The Boston Fund.
~large puppet theater gifted to The Waldorf School
Installation views Once Upon A Contest: Selections from Cape Ann Reads
at Rockport Public Library February 2020
Enjoy ” Seek and find” activity sheets you can photograph to bring with you to the show or print out. (There are copies on site as well.) The first one is harder and may take longer. The mini one is geared to the youngest visitors.
*Inez Haynes Irwin (b. 1873 Brazil – d. 1970 Massachusetts) author of Maida’s Little Shop, was a renowned early 20th century, award-winning Massachusetts author, suffragist and feminist. She attended Radcliffe. Her parents were from Boston. Haynes married newspaper editor Rufus Gillmore in 1897; they later divorced. She married William Henry Irwin in 1916. She wrote fifteen books in the Maida series beginning with Maida’s Little Shop in 1909, first published by American publisher B.W. Huebsch**, and concluding with Maida’s Little Treasure Hunt in 1955. Haynes was the first fiction editor for The Masses. She served as Vice President and President of the Author’s Guild of America. In 1924, she received an O. Henry Award her short story, The Spring Flight. Her aunt, Lorenza Haynes (1820-1899), was the first public librarian in Waltham, Massachusetts, then one of Massachusett’s first three ordained female ministers. The aunt’s assignments began in Maine, where she also served as Chaplain to the Maine House of Representatives and Senate. Her ministries included two in Rockport: the First Universalist Church on Hale Street (1884) and the Universalist Society, Pigeon Cove. (“She was an acceptable preacher and did good work wherever her lot was cast.” Universalist Register, 1900. Scroll up and down – fascinating to compare the complimentary entries for the male pastors in these pages. For a more detailed entry see this nutshell on Lorenza Haynes ). Inez wrote about her aunt and big family in this major essay. In it she corrects the record that her aunt left posts because of unfair pay, not her frality as reported in biographies.
Artist Betty Allenbrook Wiberg did not know that the little Maida book she recalled so fondly was part of a series or about its author or the aunt’s ties with Rockport. “I haven’t thought about that book until I worked on this show. It’s almost providence at work when you hear connections like these!”
**About Inez Hayne’s first publisher, B.W. Huebsch– His eponymous firm sponsored writers and was credited with building interest for Joyce, Strindberg, DH Lawrence, Sherwood Anderson and others. His imprint was a 7 branch candlestick with his initials BWH. Later, he merged his firminto a nascent Viking Press and continued at the helm as editor in chief. According to the NY Times obit he was a leader in the A.C.L.U.
Read Chapter 1 Maida’s Little Shop: