Capturing cowboy country

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Born and raised in Michigan, Rod and Calvé Libby made their way out West not just for a better life, but for a life that inspires their art.

Clara Garcia-News-Bulletin photo: Rod and Calvé Libby first met in art class in high school. The Rio Communities couple have continued their artwork by creating work inspired by the Southwest. The couple have the Long Shadows Studio of Western Art in their home.

Equipped with a camera, their paint brushes, their imaginations and their talent, the Libbys, who now live in Rio Communities, left the Midwest and moved to Reserve in 1973, not only for a change of scenery, but for a passion that they both discovered when they were youngsters growing up in Detroit.

The couple’s talents as artists began when they were teenagers and in high school in Detroit.

Rod LIbby painted this oil painting of his foreman roping a cow on their cattle ranch in near Reserve, N.M.

“We had excellent art teachers,” Calvé said. “That’s where we met — in art class.”

After high school, Rod went into the Air Force during World War II, where, in addition to his other military duties, was asked on several different occasions to paint murals, whether it be on aircraft or buildings.

“The general wanted me to do it, so I couldn’t say no,” Rod remembers. “It turned out pretty good, so he wanted me to do some more.”

But it was when the couple moved to New Mexico that their focus changed, their passion had blossomed by the vibrant views and the lush landscapes.

“I kiddingly say that he wanted to be a cowboy,” Calvé says.

As a home-builder by trade, Rod and Calvé found the Southwest enjoyable as an escape from the cold winter months of Michigan. The couple had been vacationing in Arizona for several years when they decided that they wanted to move here, where the sky is vast and the weather a bit more agreeable.

As they started looking around for places to buy, a realtor in Arizona told them about a 64,000-acre ranch near Reserve. As the Libbys started out and drove into the Land of Enchantment, they stopped their motor home on the side of the road to eat a lunch, Rod remembers.

“I remember looking down to see some deer laying around in a meadow in the valley,” Rod said. “I remember telling Calvé that if the ranch is anything like this, then it’s the one. We fell in love with it from the beginning. There’s lots of trees, lots of water and being from Michigan, we were really attracted to the terrain.”

“We raised our boys and grandchildren there,” Calvé said. “It was really good for them — they learned to be cowboys.”

While the Libbys owned the cattle ranch for seven years, they admit that they were more observers than participants, but their paintings are a testament to what they witnessed.

“That’s what you do when you move out West,” says Rod laughing.

“We were just so impressed with the beauty,” Calvé remembers of her initial impression of splendor of the Southwest.

The Libbys, who own Long Shadows Studio of Western Art in their Rio Communities home, specialize in larger oil paintings, big enough to be able to include the details of their mind’s eyes.

In one of Rod’s favorite paintings, “A Favorite Place,” he delicately describes a Native American family frolicking in a mountain stream with the lush Gila forest surrounding them.

While some paintings takes weeks to create, Calvé says most takes months, not because of the arduous work, but simply because of the details and wanting to make sure everything is exactly the way they want it.

Calvé also enjoys creating Western art, but she is also drawn to the architecture of the Southwest, the old courthouses and adobe homes that adorn our heritage.

Like any artist, the Libbys use different tools to help them create their artwork, including photographs that capture a specific scene, a feeling that they want to capture on the canvas.

“We take lots and lots of photos,” Calvé said. “We mainly do oils, but Rod has done some pastels.”

Even though Calvé can’t, or won’t, admit that Western-themed art is her favorite, she says it’s hard not to be taken aback by its lure and its charm.

“With the Western scenery and landscape everywhere, it’s hard to ignore,” she says.

“It gets in your blood,” Rod admits.

After leaving the ranch near Reserve, the Libbys moved to Mountainair. And while art has been, and probably always will be, in their blood, they’ve come to realize, as they’ve moved from place to place, that the market is different everywhere they’ve been.

“It’s one thing if you can show (your work), but it’s another thing if you can sell your work,” Rod said. “Ruidoso is a good market, and of course Santa Fe and Taos. Here, not so much, but it’s appreciated just as much.”

As members of the Belen Art League, the couple has shown their work at numerous local shows. In fact, they had their own two-person show at the Belen Harvey House Museum a couple of years ago.

Unfortunately, Calvé missed the entire show having broke a hip a few days before the opening.

“I was able to go to the last day to see what it looked like,” Calvé says. “We had a pretty good turnout, but I wish I would have been able to be there.”

Walking through their home and studio, the art on the walls tell the story of their life together, of their enthusiasm for beauty and their willingness to capture what’s right in front of them in a way that only an artist can. It’s more than putting paint on brush or that brush to canvas. It’s about creating an emotion through art.

When asked if it was hard for them to sell their treasures, they both agreed that some are more difficult than others.

“It comes from here,” Rod says pointing to his heart.

“But you can’t keep all of them,” Calvé says.

Some they will never part with, and others will be given to their children to share, but each one of their paintings have meaning to them and to those who are fortunate enough see them.

Rod and Calvé, 89 and 87 respectively, have slowed down a bit, but the art-covered-walls in their Rio Communities home, where they moved to seven years ago, is a testament to their lifelong abilities and love of art, of the country life and of the brilliance of the West.

“Right now, neither one of us is really doing anything productive, but we are both in the process of getting ideas,” Calvé says. “You go through a process of looking through photos and finding that inspiration.”

Every artist has a fervor to tell a story in whatever median they’re drawn to, and Rod and Calvé Libby are no different. In their case, their passion for the West and capturing the cowboy way of life is what makes them stand out and what makes their work as enchanting as the landscapes they create.


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.