Illness claims Breckenridge art gallery co-owner Martha Hibberd
Ryan Summerlin January 31, 2012
After a long illness, Martha Hibberd died in her home in Breckenridge Saturday night. The longtime local had co-owned Hibberd McGrath Gallery since 1982 with Terry McGrath Craig.
For more than 20 years, Hibberd lived with scleroderma, a progressive, auto-immune disorder that affects the skin and connective tissue. With scleroderma, the body’s immune system produces too much collagen, which accumulates and causes hardening, scarring and other damage to skin, internal organs or both. There is no cure, only treatments for symptoms, which vary from person to person. Her sister, Marge Swim, said Hibberd “kept quiet” about the condition, not telling friends “until recent years” or in some cases, months.
“She dealt with it privately and strongly; she faced it head on,” McGrath Craig said, adding that working toward goals at the gallery helped give Hibberd something to focus on and look forward to through some of her health problems.
Hibberd and McGrath Craig met while working at Ski Tip Lodge and opened Hibberd McGrath Gallery in Keystone in November 1982, after finishing a cabin Rolf Dercum, a painter – and son of Max Dercum – offered them. Hibberd had owned Fingerprints, a gallery in the Argentine building in Keystone prior to that, but when Keystone renovated and eliminated parking, Hibberd closed the gallery. In 1980, the two women hosted a fashion show featuring “wearable art.” They expected 30 people at Keystone Lodge, and when 150 attended, they knew they were onto something. Following that, they organized a couple other shows, then took up Dercum on his offer.
Dercum’s gallery wasn’t easy to find – McGrath Craig joked that “if people found us, they felt like they had to buy something,” so the duo moved the gallery to Breckenridge to build community support, because they wanted to be able to rely on locals and second-home owners as a customer base. From 1985-87, they rented at 124 S. Main, then moved to their current location at 101 N. Main.
Hibberd earned a degree in ceramics at Alfred University, one of the leading New York design colleges, and McGrath Craig had studied weaving and basketry. Both valued developing long-term relationships with the artists they represented, and some of the artists they begin with in 1982, like Ed Larson, still showcase their work at the gallery today.
In fact, Swim, who came to Breckenridge with her husband to help care for Hibberd for the past couple weeks (along with Bristlecone Health Service) was overwhelmed with how many artists and friends called to say how Hibberd inspired them: “It was one person after another,” Swim said, “telling us how much encouragement she has given them, and that, that was part of what kept them going in the early years. We were amazed: That phone didn’t stop for two weeks once the word got out.”
“She was an incredible woman who built an incredible contemporary art gallery,” said local artist Ann Lukacs. “It was as much fun visiting with Marty as it was seeing the fun art they brought in.”
Larson said when Hibberd looked at a piece of art she liked, she’d say: “This is a real hoot!” and when he visited her before she passed away, the first thing she said to him was, “Here comes that wild man!”
“She’s always been a joy to be in contact with,” Larson said. “She overlooked all the negative things … and was very quick to see all the good things. You just felt a lot better for being in her presence.”
McGrath Craig described Hibberd as an “outgoing, engaging, curious person” who had the technical knowledge, as well as the visual appreciation of art, to help other artists accomplish their visions. She also was a strong advocate of expanding art in Summit County, sitting on committees related to public art and supporting music and the performing arts.
“Her openness and friendliness – she just created an atmosphere that people wanted to be a part of,” said McGrath Craig. “She knew how to be a friend.”