Robert Cargo

Self-taught, visionary, and outsider artists of the South
African-American quilts Haitian spirit flags

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After 30 years of continuous operation, the Robert Cargo Folk Art Gallery has closed.

I am pleased to announce the December 2013 gift of the Robert Cargo Folk Art Collection and the Robert and Helen Cargo African American Quilt Collection to the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama. It is my hope that this gift honors the life-long passion of my parents as well as the creative spirits of these artists. May their shared legacy be enjoyed and celebrated for generations to come.  Please see the HOME PAGE for additional details.

Caroline Cargo

SYBIL GIBSON  (1908-1995)

The beginning of Sybil's career as an artist is a well-known and often-repeated story: in 1963, after seeing some gift-wrapping paper in a shop, she told herself that she could paint such paper and proceeded to do so. Shunning regular art paper, Sybil would use ordinary grocery bags, which she soaked in water to flatten, or else pieces of corrugated board, which she likewise soaked to remove the core, or even sheets of newspaper. The application of tempera paint to the paper while it was still at least partly wet imparted a somewhat impressionistic look to some paintings. The fluidity of the brushwork gave Sybil's style its distinctive character- remarkably controlled, graceful, and sparse.


Sybil Gibson's work falls into three distinct and decidedly separate periods:

  • The early period, from the beginning to around 1970. During these formative years, the artist was attempting to find a direction both in style and subject matter, and the work is marked by hesitation and a lack of confidence.
  • The middle period, that of the mature artist, and by far the best and most prolific, from 1970-1985. The period from 1985-1990 represents a hiatus in Sybil's creative life. Because of the increasingly precarious state of her health, few paintings were done during these years.
  • The declining years, the late period, work done in the Florida nursing home following cataract surgery. 

The Gallery sells only works done in the second period: 1970-1985.   All the works we offer were obtained directly from the artist.

Howell Raines has described Sybil's work in this manner. "The paintings are not over-powering, they are truly fragile in the best sense. The colors are very delicate, and while Sybil Gibson's work is figurative, her realism is tempered with a certain dream-like quality." (The Birmingham News, June 20, 1971). I prefer to say that the artist seemed intent on representing the world surrounding her, not as it was, but as she would have liked it to be: gentle, refined, elegant, urbane, idealized.

Her subject matter is not extensive: portraits of women, girls, children, and conspicuously fewer but exceptionally fine portraits of men and boys; flowers, cats, birds, and mask-like faces that appear to float, seemingly separated from a body.


John Hood, " More than a Pretty Face: The Art of Sybil Gibson," FOLK ART MAGAZINE, XXIII, no. 4 (Winter, 1998/99).
Howell Raines. Cited above. 
Exhibition catalogue. Jim Roche, UNSIGNED, UNSUNG, WHEREABOUTS UNKNOWN. Florida State University, 1993.
Chuck and Jan Rosenak, first volume, 1990.
Sellen / Johnson. Both volumes, 1993 and 2000.