They say you can’t go home again, but cover artist Sibylle-Maria Pfaffenbichler does just that when she visits her old stomping grounds in Southampton, even though she moved to Philadelphia three years ago. She has always loved it here but finds her new home so accommodating to artists. Art is everywhere, she says; the whole city is involved in the arts.
Q: You have really settled into Philadelphia. How have you integrated yourself into the art scene?
A: I volunteer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. They have a wonderful program there that brings art to the students in the classroom, free of charge. A teacher tells us what the lesson is about, and we prepare lesson plans. The teachers freak out, they are so pleased with this. I am one of the few artists in the program. Mostly there are teachers; we’re doing it for love.
Q: How about your own art? What are you doing to nurture that?
A: I belong to two clubs. One is the Philadelphia Sketch Club, founded in 1860; I have exhibits there. The other one is the Plastic Club, which was founded in 1897. I also show there, too.
Q: But you actually create your signature work at the Plastic Club.
A: Yes. I paint at the “moving model workshop” with a modern dancer who dances for us. I paint in line form on a scroll that can be 70 feet long, although now I am doing a scroll that is 45 feet long.
Q: Why a scroll that long?
A: I was running out of paper, trying to capture the dancer’s movements because she moved constantly. So I used a scroll.
Q: The atmosphere where you paint is quite something.
A: It is an old Colonial building that looks British. Sometimes the model dances in the garden.
Q: You are attracted to non-contemporary architecture with character, I think. After all, you grew up in Austria and were familiar with Vienna. How about your studio? It’s not new.
A: It’s in a textile factory, and my studio is on one of the upper floors. I love it there.
Q: About your paintings – your subjects are dancers. How did that come about? Are you a dancer yourself? Do you like music?
A: I’m very shy when it comes to dancing. But I grew up in Austria with classical music. Then rock and roll came along, and it was so exciting. We were not allowed to go out at night, but we’d stay up until 10 and turn on the radio and try and hear the rock and roll songs, although the reception wasn’t good.
Q: So what’s the story about your attraction to dancers? How did that come about?
A: I came to the U.S. when I was 19 and stayed with my sister and brother in Charleston, South Carolina. Then I moved to New York. It was an absolute dream come true. Although we went to Vienna to the museums, I saw real art in New York. I went to F.I.T. and studied textile design. Then Vera, the well-known textile designer, hired me straight out of school. I got up every day at 5:30 a.m. to catch the train to Vera’s studio in upstate New York.
Q: You married a man whose mother was into dancing, big time, right?
A: Yes, she was the matriarch of the family. We called her Nana. She was from the old school, very regal. She used to go to Harlem during its Renaissance period and do the lindy hop. So I looked up the Lindy Hop and did charcoal drawings. I was swept away myself.
Q: You’ve been swept away ever since. Where do you show your dancers in Philadelphia?
A: At Jake’s restaurant in the Manayunk area, it’s like my personal gallery.
Q: What kind of dances do your dancers do now?
A: One of my favorite dances is the Charleston. I do whatever I see and like. I am not a wild person, but I like to draw wild dancers.
“Talking with Cover Artist Sibylle-Maria Pfaffenbichler” is brought to you by Bay’s Carpet, 139 Main Street in Westhampton Beach. For carpets, window treatments and more, visit them in Westhampton Beach or call 631-288-1170.