By Allie Brawley
Noel Skiba was inspired to make Mackinac Island her home from her first visit. She recalls the carriage ride and overnight trip with her Girl Scout Troop and telling her leader, “I’m going to live here one day.”
Born in Alpena, Michigan, Skiba is a third-generation impressionist painter. The talent stems from both sides of her family as her parents and grandparents were painters, builders, metal workers, weavers, seamstresses, and sculpture artists. The trend continues as her son is an artist.
Skiba studied fine arts, science, and business at Kendall College of Art of Design, Alpena Community College, Ferris State University, and Aquinas College, but says her true training came from spending time in her mother’s art classroom.
Her career began as an X-ray technician but she continued freelancing as an artist. She started selling her artwork to hospitals, which grew into commissioned work for colleges and corporations.
While she now considers Mackinac Island her primary home, she constantly moves between her studio in Grand Rapids and more than 50 art shows and events each year. Her travels keep her inspired. Five years ago, she spent six months driving across the country to the Florida Keys and then California. She painted in 26 states and many national parks.
“I want to be inspired and create from that inspiration,” said Skiba.
Skiba considers herself a historian painter who weaves stories into every painting. Meeting President Ford earlier in life led to her most memorable work as a historian painter. Upon his passing, she felt a need to honor him but never dreamed it would lead to painting for the Ford family.
Standing at the memorial to paint President Ford’s funeral, a grandmother turned to her grandchildren to remark, “Kids – that’s a real artist – she is documenting the memorial of the President.” Then all the cameras turned to Skiba. When President Ford was lying in repose, Skiba waited in line for eight hours to pay her respects. During her wait, the Secret Service came in to let her know the Ford family invited her to paint live inside. An international newsfeed was set up while she painted and afterwards, the family viewed her work. As result, many of the 36 pieces of art documenting the Ford Presidential Funeral are displayed in the Besser Museum, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, and the National Archives.
It’s an example of her ability to bring light to a somber experience through her vibrant color.
Painting with her fingers, tubes of paint, and brushes, Skiba takes a familiar view from the West Bluff on Mackinac Island or the Grand Hotel and uses various mediums to make each piece unique. Working with oil, watercolor, acrylic, she’ll carve into paintings with glazing, washes, and thick impasto layering. Some pieces with lots of detail have 300 hours of work in them and feature metallics and iridescences.
For 20 years, Skiba has called Mackinac Island home, so she treks a bike trailer of art on and off the ferry regularly. She paints live on location for Mackinac Island events like the Lilac Festival parade. Her artwork is featured on Murdick’s fudge boxes, door paintings, and elevators at the Lilac Tree and Chippewa Hotels. Her bright studio full of island-inspired artwork is tucked behind the Bayview Bed & Breakfast.
“I want people to have an art experience when they come in here,” said Skiba. “It’s a showroom and studio, not just a store.” Many years after establishing herself as an island resident, she saw her former Girl Scout leader and told her, “You’re the reason I came to the island and stayed because you told me ‘you can do anything!’”
Indeed, Skiba’s career as an artist continues to flourish as she stays inspired to create. From Mackinac Island and beyond, her artwork, weavings and murals adorn many homes, businesses, corporations, universities, country clubs, churches, museums, and galleries.
“I feel blessed that I have this talent and I want it to be shared with the world,” said Skiba.
Skiba’s pieces range from $150 to $15,000. View her work at her website.