Grandma Moses, nearly 90, has a young rival, Wilbur Carbee, 73. He’s been painting primitives three years, and several have been mistaken for her work.
A native of Lunenburgh, N.Y., Mr. Carbee spends the winters in Dalton with a married daughter, Mrs. Crawford Adams. Summers he operates a stone-carving and lettering business in Groton, Vt. He’s been at it since the age of 12, and finds his knowledge of design and balance in cutting and shaping marble is a big asset in painting.
Actually, he first tried his hand at painting in 1903 at the age of 27. A portrait painter saw some pencil sketches he’d made as a joke and told him he had talent. He still has the crayon set he started experimenting with 46 years ago. Not until he began spending winters in Dalton did he go into oil primitives seriously. That was in 1946, when time dragged and he turned to his former hobby as pastime.
In all, Mr. Carbee has painted about 50 primitives, and has given many to friends and relatives. Most of the pictures are based on boyhood memories of Vermont. He has never taken lessons, but he and a sister, Mrs. Stella Ball of Lunenburgh, have inherited a flair for painting. Their four brothers and sisters have no talent of the sort whatever. The late Scott Clifton Carbee, Boston, portrait painter, was a cousin.
Wiry, keen-eyed, Mr. Carbee does his pictures by fits and starts. A glimmer of an idea will start him off. He will work on it about an hour, then restlessly turn to something else for a time. As he paints, the original glimmer opens up into a scene he’d long forgotten of 55 or 60 years past. Usually starting with a brook, to which he’s partial, he’ll remember there was a tree here, then beyond it a rickety barn, a wooded hill in the distance. As he paints one detail after another, the next emerges in his mind. About four hours in three or four sittings go into each primitive.
Aside from the satisfaction of doing creative work, Mr. Carbee is delighted at how highly-prized are his paintings. Friends and relatives frame them and give them prominent spots on their walls. Mrs. Adams has four in her living room, and two have been mistaken for Grandma Moses’ work. He also is puzzled that a talent which lay dormant 70 years should emerge finally when given the chance.