By RENEE FITE
The incomparable beauty of nature inspires Dennis Tibbits to paint.
“I believe my love of the Illinois River, especially the Barren Fork, has greatly influenced the type of material I prefer doing,” said Tibbits.
His love of landscapes – “riverscapes,” as he calls them – began about the same time he started floating the river in the 1970s as a student at Northeastern State University.
Tibbits, an instructor and clinical supervisor of Speech and Language Pathology at NSU, graduated from Stilwell High School in 1971. He earned a bachelor’s degree from NSU in 1975 and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas in 1976, both in speech-language pathology. He came full-circle when he took a teaching job at NSU in 2007, after doing clinical speech pathology for more than 30 years.
In the early ‘70s, he did his first oil paintings and three of them hang in his house today.
“I always liked to draw, even as a child, and my parents encouraged me. My mother was artistic, and I think she recognized I had some ability. My father was artistic in a different way; [he enjoyed] woodworking,” he said.
In high school art class with Betty McGee, he was introduced to charcoal, pastels, pen and ink, and watercolor.
“I think she recognized potential early that year in a pencil drawing I did of a vase of cat-tails. She held me after class and gave me an assignment to do the same picture in pen and ink,” he said. “Later in the year, she went on maternity leave and chose her top two students – I was one of them – to be separated from the rest for the remainder of the year and work on any projects we chose to do.”
He didn’t try oil painting until in college, and then just as a hobby.
“Definitely oil painting is my favorite. I especially love doing landscapes. They take me to my happy place, and I essentially live in the location that I’m painting, if just for the time I’m painting it,” said Tibbits.
The desire to create has visited Tibbits throughout his life. He went through a phase in the 1980s, painting landscapes on sawblades and wood blocks. The most unusual thing he painted on was an old tractor seat.
“It sounds odd, but it really turned out to be pretty neat with a 3-D effect. I sold quite a few pieces during that time, and even had a booth at the Fort Smith Flea Market, but I got tired of being tied down all weekend every weekend and gave it up,” he said.
It was only two years ago that he started painting again, making a wedding gift for his father-in-law, Gene Carter.
“I had a lot of fun doing that project, and I suppose I rediscovered my love of making pretty pictures. I’ve been cranking them out at a steady pace, completing 15 paintings in the last two months,” he said.
Recently, he was coaxed into including some wildlife in his projects.
“Once I gave in, I decided I kind of liked the idea. In recent pieces, I have included blue herons, a red-bellied woodpecker, a [dragonfly] and a kingfisher. I plan to do an eastern bluebird in my next one,” he said.
Inspiration for his prolific painting is his first one-man art show at the Canebreak, which opened Saturday.
“I’m very excited about the first show. I am proud and humbled that people like my work and are willing to spend their hard-earned money to own something that I created. What a feeling!” he said. “ I am honored to be “March Artist of the Month” at The Canebrake resort on Lake Fort Gibson. I have 18 pieces exhibited there through the end of the month.”
Art is therapy for Tibbits.
“It’s the ultimate means of self-expression,” said Tibbits. “Art is the process of making beauty. You create something beautiful from nothing, and look at it and think, ‘Wow, did I do that?’ It’s an incredible feeling.”
There are some local artists who inspire him. Murv Jacob, Dana Tiger and Jimmy Leach immediately come to mind, Tibbits said.
“I admire anyone who can make a living doing art, and those three are exceptional. I also love Leon Briggs’ and Dena Coleman’s work,” he said.
Tibbits tells aspiring artists to follow their bliss.
“Be true to yourself and let everything else fall into place,” he said. “Art, as a career, is hard. That’s why I have so much admiration for those who are successful.”
Tibbits believes art important to culture.
“History is often biased and frequently rewritten by those in power,” he said. “Art is timeless. It cannot be rewritten. It preserves the culture of the time, perhaps more accurately than the written history.”
His art is displayed at Fluffy’s Compleat Boutique in Stilwell, a shop he shares with Kathy, his wife of nine years, an attorney and tie-dye artist. He posts new paintings on Facebook, Dennis Tibbits Fine Art page.
“I have two fantastic stepchildren, Katy and Justin, and an adorable grandson, Kai,” he said.
Music is his other passion. “I love to sing and play guitar. I’ve played in bands since high-school – all styles of music,” he said.
These days, he plays at restaurants and at a wide variety of events. He also enjoys acting and has played in a couple of Tahlequah Community Playhouse productions. He’s tried his hand at writing – a novel several years ago and a few songs. Two of his tunes are on the Songs for the Illinois River CDs (Volumes 1 and 2), on which he and Kathy served as executive producers.
“I feel blessed and fortunate to have been bestowed with what I consider invaluable talents, a loving family, precious friends, and a wonderful life.”
Dennis Tibbits’ first one-man show opened Saturday night at the Canebreak and runs through March.