by Geoff Fox
Kimberly Carbaugh from Warfordsburg has never had an art lesson in her life, yet her work is on display at the Hancock Veterans Memorial Library.
Carbaugh started painting when she was 9 years old with finger painting, but didn’t really like it because she didn’t like getting paint on her fingers.
It wasn’t until a few years ago she started using canvas for her art.
As for her inspiration, Carbaugh said she would do her art whenever the mood would hit her or when she had time to create it while providing care for her grandmother.
“I always sat in the living room with my easel there because I didn’t have an office or studio,” Carbaugh said. “She was always the first one to see my artwork before anybody ever saw it.”
Carbaugh’ s grandmother passed away before she could see how far the artwork has come.
“A lot of times, when it wasn’t just practice, it was feelings or experience that would make me want to do a certain thing,” she said.
Carbaugh said she never really thought there was a process to creating her art. She described it more as her doing it to see if she can do it.
“I just sort of started doing it just to see if I could,” she said.
Carbaugh started using acrylics on paper, but thought they dried too fast and brushes would stick to the surface.
“I always wanted to try canvas, but couldn’t afford it,” she said. “So I had to make do with what I had.”
There are 16 pieces of Carbaugh’ s work on display at the library, but her first piece on canvas is not among them.
It is still at home, unfinished.
The piece depicts a bat turning into a moth with a full moon behind it. The moon also has a spider on it, Carbaugh said.
“It just needs a few things done to it and it would be finished, but I just never fully finished it,” she said.
Another piece not among the 16 at the library is the piece that has been the hardest to complete.
That piece has taken about nine months so far.
“It’s highly detailed,” she said.
The painting is of a skull that is also a spider made of bones. The webbing is blood veins and of different colors, with the muscle tissue visible attached to the canvas.
That is also one of Carbaugh’s favorite pieces.
She said her mother thought the piece was scary and told her she’ d be happy when it was out of the house.
Last Thursday, July 7, Carbaugh was bringing in a new piece to add to the collection at the library, one of a mermaid.
The new piece, she said, didn’t get paint put on for a few years and was based on an old sketch she had done years earlier with the idea to see what it would look like larger than the sketch and make a few changes. However, she couldn’t figure out what color scheme to make it.
“I didn’t like the original color scheme because it was done in pen and it wasn’t just as nice,” Carbaugh said. “I wanted it to be something different, something you could see at a distance.”
For about four years, it sat in a corner with other unfinished projects.
After a near death experience, Carbaugh said she was in a traumatic time in her life
and took the painting out. “That was one of the things that helped get me through, to finally paint that mermaid,” she said.
The library display was the result of Carbaugh coming in the library last year while in the park with a program called Peer Star, a program that helps people with depression and other mental health issues.
It was also when Carbaugh’ s mother was hooked up to oxygen after a near fatal blood clot and diagnosed with stage four cancer.
With her voice breaking, Carbaugh said they came to Widmeyer Park to get out of the house and told her Peer Star person she didn’t know what she’d do with her life if something happened to her mother.
Carbaugh admitted she turned into a hermit after dropping out of school and disappeared as she felt she didn’t have a place in the world.
With few friends or family, Carbaugh said all she had was Peer Star and no other way to get out due to not being able to drive.
While in the park with her Peer Star specialist, Carbaugh wanted to go into the library since she hadn’t been there since it had been built.
“We came in and we just looked around,” she said. “They didn’t have half as many books as what they do now and they didn’t have that display shelf.”
The specialist noticed there was some artwork on the some of the shelves and asked if they were interested in putting more artwork on display. Carbaugh said she would never have asked.
They talked to Library Manager Pam Mann to see if they would be interested in seeing some of Carbaugh’s artwork.
During her next Peer Star appointments, Carbaugh and her specialist brought some of her paintings and sketchbooks to look through.
“They looked through it and they were impressed,” Carbaugh said.
“Sure was,” Mann added.
It was then they decided to have the paintings displayed from Thanksgiving of that year through the following January.
“I looked forward to that,” Carbaugh said, adding she got back into creating her art.
This took place when Carbaugh’ s mom and she were in a “bad spot” but this made her feel better.
“It took me out of some of that deep, dark place,” she said.
Carbaugh pulled out the paintings that weren’t finished and completed them and pulled a few others that would fit.
Those paintings were put in a tote and put aside waiting for the day to bring them in to the library.
Carbaugh’ s mother got an infection in her lungs with COVID and passed away eight days after her 78th birthday. Carbaugh also got COVID from being around her mother 24/7 as caregiver.
“I was so sick that I was unable to finish the artwork I was making for her birthday,” she said. “I haven’t touched it since.”
Illnesses caused another delay in the display.
In June of this year, the art finally made it into the library, although with a heavy heart as Carbaugh’ s uncle passed away from cancer.
Carbaugh always wanted her mom to be included in anything she did with her artwork because her mother always supported it.
“She’ s not here anymore, but the closest I could get to her always wanting to be there with me and me always wanting her to see me get there with it, I’m just going to keep the same bio and submit the same information,” Carbaugh said.
A previous birthday gift to her mother is part of the display.
The picture, which is on the bottom shelf of the display, is a Halloween themed piece as Carbaugh’s mother was born on October 31.
In it, is a younger representation of Carbaugh in a pumpkin holding a broom, a caldron beside the pumpkin, a spider crawling on the pumpkin, a full moon, and bats flying around.
“That year, when she turned 77, there was that blue moon in October, so I put a blue moon. And blue’ s her favorite color,” Carbaugh said. “I tried to include all of that together for her.”
As for feedback on her art, Carbaugh said she’ s only heard what Mann has told her.
Mann, however, said people have been complimentary about the art and been impressed with it.
The favorites have been a dragon painting and a wolf drawing.
“I’m really impressed with the level of expertise, with how well she’s done with no training at all,” Mann said.
When asked if she would consider selling any of her art should someone inquire, Carbaugh said she wouldn’t sell the originals but would try to get in contact with someone trustworthy who could make prints of the art.
Carbaugh offered some advice to those who are looking at creating art.
“It’s a little different for everybody,” she said.
For a long time, she kept it a secret.
Carbaugh gave examples of how her artwork went from being a secret growing up to being able to replicate art teachers to being ridiculed because of the subjects she was painting.
That criticism was what helped push her in her art.
“If you’re going to be criticized, learn how to take being criticized,” she said. “A lot of times, even the negative criticism is going to give you the motivation to make your stuff better and to make it different from what everybody else is doing.”
That, she said, will give someone an edge that a lot of trained artists might never have.
“Just because your art’s a little different, or some people can’t see that it’s good the way you see that it’ s good, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep doing it,” she said.