In her reserved and quiet way, Maggie Libby, hopes to leave her impression on the College’s history. Libby is currently working on a long term art project that seeks to capture women’s experiences, images and voices at the College. “What gets left out becomes as important as what is put into the histories,” Maggie said of the official histories of Colby.
“The experiences that the people in the margins of the culture have are equally as important and really informed the way the College has evolved,” Maggie said, “especially those first women who came [to campus] against great odds and great disapproval.”
Libby herself attended Colby between 1977-1981 as an Art major. She transferred to Colby after a year at Tufts. Although her experience at Colby was not ideal, she loved what she studied and “owned her experience” by getting involved in Powder & Wig’s set design and costume design. She and a group of friends also revived the Gay-Straight Alliance at Colby, after a friend transferred due to homophobic harassment.
While a student at Colby, Maggie painted figure (which she teaches during JanPlan now) and outdoor landscapes. She wrote a senior scholars project entitled “The Nude and its Environment.” Upon graduation, Maggie wanted to continue painting, but then, as now, it is hard to be a professional artist. “I had no money so I had to get a job right after graduation. I ended up getting waitressing jobs and living in Waterville,” Maggie said of the first years. “I painted during the day and painted between my waitressing shifts.
Despite these struggles, Maggie continued her art training, attending the New York Studio School intermittently, the Skowhegan School on the Maine Scholarship (a competitive grant) and creating her own independent Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program at the University of Maine, since at the time MFA programs did not exist in Maine. This took many years of patience and persistence. It took seven years after graduation before Maggie won the scholarship that enabled her to attend the Skowhegan School. “I go through periods of questioning, but…you have that day when everything goes well in the studio and everything creates the soundless music,” Maggie said of pursuing art. “[Making art is] an endless source of learning and discovery. I knew [that] however foolish it would be, [art] was something I wanted in my life.”
Maggie works now Visual Resources Curator and as a JanPlan instructor for the Art Department and Visual Resources and Manuscript Specialist in Special Collections.
She continues to paint and has had her works shown at the Colby College Museum of Art and other local and state-wide venues. Her current work focuses on women’s experiences at the College, starting with the first Mary Low and on into the present. Linking women’s experiences in the past to women’s experiences in the present, Maggie said, “The most logical thing is to think about what is happening now and how we make communities for ourselves here on campus. That’s not always easy.”
Her images combine portraits of important women at Colby, dating back to the 19th century along with their literal quotations, which Maggie used in the wall text. This was her way of giving the women their voices back.
Among the women involved in Colby’s present, Maggie painted this year’s Oak Fellow, Jestina Mukoko, a Zimbabwean human rights activist who was held as a political prisoner for her humanitarian work. Along with the painting, Maggie plays an interview with Mukoko, so her literal voice is heard.
Maggie has already shown her project at the Fall Faculty Show in the Museum, but intends for the project to be ongoing. She will show once again at the celebration of Colby’s bicentennial in 2013.
Maggie described art as “something more visceral than words, something that [goes] beyond words into a more immediate experience.” She also said it takes a great degree of trusting your own instincts to pursue what you love. It is easy, Maggie said, “[to] get so caught up in the external world or external definitions of success.”