Immersed in art since childhood, retired Carroll County teacher Van Bibber says, ‘I live to make’ | EYE ON ART

Jan Van Bibber, a retired Carroll County schoolteacher, is an oil painter and metalsmith who creates jewelry. She lived with her mother in Washington, D.C., until she was 9 years old.

“My mother always took me to museums and concerts,” Van Bibber said.


Around the corner from Van Bibber’s house, Felix W. de Weldon, the sculptor of “Iwo Jima,” was working. Iwo Jima is the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Virginia. The sculptor de Weldon was an Austrian-born American who created the statue of three Marines raising a flag during the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

As a 5-year-old child, Van Bibber and her friends climbed all over the sculptures in the building where the sculpture was being built. The workers explained to them how it was being made. “I found it very exciting,” she said. “The workers also gave us flags.”


When Van Bibber was 9, she went to live in Bel Air with her aunt and uncle, John Stewart Carver, a regional landscape painter. She spent her weekends going plein air (outdoor) painting with him.

Jan Van Bibber is pictured with her painting “Storm Coming” and her cat, Danny, on her farm.
Jan Van Bibber is pictured with her painting “Storm Coming” and her cat, Danny, on her farm. (Lyndi McNulty)

At that time, Van Bibber took painting classes from Mary Woodward, an artist opening an art school in Hartford County. Van Bibber was her first long-term student. Woodward also introduced Van Bibber to a variety of types of art including collage and multi-media as well as alternate ways of creating visual art. Van Bibber also started doing constructions.

“I went from one thing to another trying to find my voice in art,” she said.

While Van Bibber was attending Bel Air Senior High School, participated in local arts and crafts shows. She sold her paintings and collages.


After high school, Van Bibber attended Maryland Institute of Art. MICA was teaching trendy art, but Bibber wanted classical instruction in oil painting. Her college major was split between print making and painting. Van Bibber graduated from MICA with a degree in fine art painting. She and her husband got married while she was in college.

“Evening Light,” by Jan Van Bibber, oil painting.
“Evening Light,” by Jan Van Bibber, oil painting. (Lyndi McNulty)

Then Van Bibber attended Towson University and took classes in education so that she could teach school. She and her husband had bought a derelict farm and were putting all their efforts into rebuilding it. Reality dawned that she needed more personal satisfaction.

“I needed to do something else,” she said. “I wanted to share my passion for it.”

Van Bibber went on to teach art at Hampstead Elementary School for 30 years. From time to time, she was also assigned to teach art for a day or two at Taneytown Elementary, Union Bridge Elementary, and Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead.

“I loved the fusion of being able to talk about history and making art. It does a lot for the thinking of kids. It gives them voices,” she said.

Van Bibber continued to do her own art. She also taught at MICA in the youth program for two summers, but it became too much for her.

Van Bibber also sold her paintings at Bendann Galleries in Baltimore and Towson Galleries. It was one of the oldest galleries in the area.

Van Bibber uses oils and paints landscapes.

“I love the colors, movement and the atmosphere.,” she said. “My passion is when the sky and earth interact with different colors. I love storms. When the leaves start to show the silver lining across a dark sky I am hooked. The wind causes the leaves to flip causing a line to form in green or silver. I will pull over my car when I see a storm coming.”

“I became interested in storms in 1955″, Van Bibber said. “I was out playing. There was an approaching storm and the sky was dark and I got excited. My brother told me to get on the porch. Then it started to hail.” It stayed in her memory and remained a fascination for her for the rest of her life.

Van Bibber also had her artwork on exhibit in the Main Street Gallery in Annapolis, but the trip was too far for her to travel while she was working and helping with their farm. She and her husband also run an Airbnb.

Van Bibber also began making jewelry with metalsmith John Fix at Towson University. She was interested in metal smithing.

“I began to make jewelry again a couple years ago. I had to take a break from painting after my husband passed away,” Van Bibber said. “I still needed to create. I started working with metal again. This was a miniature way of painting. I use different medium to paint the earrings. I use color interaction. Some designs are based on geodes and some are miniature impressionistic landscapes. The earrings are made from copper or sterling silver. Many are reversable because both sides are painted.”

She loves texture and color. I need a big supply of earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Most of her work is made of sterling silver.

“I like forging the metal,” she said. “I love painting on copper and playing with the colors and doing mini landscapes on the jewelry,” Van Bibber said.

A collection of Jan Van Bibber earrings. Several feature impressionistic landscapes and flowers.
A collection of Jan Van Bibber earrings. Several feature impressionistic landscapes and flowers. (Lyndi McNulty)

She went to Chanticleer, a 48-acre garden that has the feel of a domestic garden on the Rosengarten Estate in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Each garden has a specific meaning. “I came back and did a series of painted earrings,” Van Bibber said. “My mother was a master gardener trained at Longwood Gardens.”

Last year, Van Bibber joined Offtrack Art Gallery, a cooperative in Westminster.

Van Bibber admires artists Thomas Hart Benton and Matisse and many more. “I had free range of the art books when I was a child,” she said. She would sit in the corner and look at the paintings with a friend who is now an artist in New York.

Van Bibber had eye problems when she was a child. As a result, her uncle took her to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. When they made the trip, they visited the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery. They also looked at the screen paintings which were considered folk art then. “Then we would go to get eyeglasses, the Rogers Art Supply Store and then Marconi’s and had lunch,” Van Bibber said. Then we took paintings to John Malcom, a well-known Baltimore artist and framer.”

“Art makes me crazy because I want to get something across. I obsess about it. I have something I want to do. Some people live for food or children and they are all wonderful, but I live to make. I love the process of creating and making. Sometimes it doesn’t work but it morphs into something else.”

Jan Van Bibber earrings based on the California fires with movement and color.
Jan Van Bibber earrings based on the California fires with movement and color. (Lyndi McNulty)

Van Bibber is a partner at Offtrack Art at 11 Liberty Street in Westminster. Her jewelry is for sale at the gallery on a regular basis. She is currently an exhibitor in a new show there titled “A Brush with Painting” that runs through Oct. 31. Guest artists include Mary Jean Coles, Jerry L. Gadd, Ona Martin, and Marcia Palmer. Go to www.offtrackart.com for details.

Lyndi McNulty is the owner of Gizmo’s Art in Westminster. Her column, An Eye for Art, appears regularly in Life & Times.