‘Beauty for ashes’: Southern Utah woman discovers artistic gift at 43 after suffering loss

ST. GEORGE — After the loss of her best friend, one woman unleashed a hidden talent for painting, discovering the strokes of her brush not only healed the wounds of loss but also illuminated a newfound passion.

Camille Neibert holds the first art piece she created after her father died, Ivins, Utah, Jan. 30, 2024 | Photo by Jessi Bang, St. George News
Camille Neibert holds the first art piece she created after her father died, Ivins, Utah, Jan. 30, 2024 | Photo by Jessi Bang, St. George News

“In a sense, I can’t believe I’m here doing this, because my dad literally just passed four days ago,” Camille Neibert said, standing inside Gallery 873. “But that’s its roots — it’s my mother, it’s my father, it’s my childhood, it’s all of that. And now I get to share it.”

Neibert, the founder and CEO of Designs by Camille, creates art that has been described as “whimsical, happy and joyful.” But it wasn’t joy that led her to paint; it was uncontrollable grief and an overwhelming feeling of despair. That grief didn’t just start with the recent death of her father.

In 2017, Neibert lost her best friend and mother to Alzheimer’s disease. And the loss was so great, she said she thought she would never feel joy again. After the funeral, her father prepared to sell the house. Her mom was known to keep everything and anything, and her family was ready to throw things away. Unable to part with her mother’s things, Neibert rented a U-Haul trailer, crammed as much as she could in it and drove back to her home in Iowa. 

It was a hot, humid day with record temperatures when she finally began opening boxes. She found beautiful items such as handwritten letters from her mom to her dad and each of her children, which she made clear were her greatest treasures. 

A young Camille Neibert takes a photo with her mom, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Camille Neibert, St. George News
A young Camille Neibert takes a photo with her mom, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Camille Neibert, St. George News

“So I’m sitting there, and honestly, I’m a mess,” she said. “I’m dripping sweat, I’m snotting, I’m coughing because I’m bawling so hard. I’m sitting on the floor in the garage and I look up, put my hands in the air, pleading with my mom on how I’m supposed to get through this.”

But when she put her hands in the air, she noticed the two tattered window screens she had purchased from an old Iowa farmhouse hanging on the garage wall.

“And when I looked at that, I literally said out loud, ‘I’ll bet I can paint my mom’s favorite flowers,’” she said. 

Just below the two hanging screens was an old kitchen cabinet and inside, she found gallons of paint and brushes from the interior of her parent’s 1949 home. Gripping a paintbrush, she coated the bristles with old paint and began painting for the first time in her entire life.

“As I started painting, I was completely overcome with grief,” she said. “Like crying harder than I’ve ever felt. Exhausted beyond belief. I just kept painting and painting and painting.”

She painted her mother’s favorite flowers – daisies and sunflowers – and she didn’t stop. At the age of 43, she had discovered a therapeutic outlet for her grief. She continued painting on everything from wooden furniture to canvas. Using it as a healthy outlet, she never considered herself an artist and had no plans of selling it.

Artwork by Camille Neibert is pictured unspecified | Photo by courtesy of Camille Neibert, St. George News
Artwork by Camille Neibert is pictured, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Camille Neibert, St. George News

“The purpose is to share joy,” she said. “If you know my mother, she was the life of the party, the delight of the world. I painted the joy I felt in being a daughter to the best mom in the world. I painted the joy I felt in being her only girl. I painted the joy I felt in having a lifetime of laughter with her.”

It wasn’t until seven years after her mother’s death that she felt ready to part with some of the art she had created. At the time, she was working at Cameo Florist, whose owner was also an artist and upon seeing her work, encouraged her to sell it at the shop. So she did. She decided to have her first booth at the Hurricane Farmers Market in 2020 and was floored by the community’s response. 

“I could not believe the compliments, the connections, the people I met,” she said. “It amazes me. I have a whole new community of friends from that.”

When she received an email from the owner of Gallery 873 in Kayenta requesting to see her work, she was shocked. That was the second artist to encourage her and make her feel like she was a true artist herself. 

“For me, it’s still all about being able to put the cares of the day — either joy or sadness or whatever — and pour that into the art,” she said. “And something amazing happens with it. I call it magical, but it’s also just its own version of happiness.”

While she had never painted before that pivotal day in the garage, she said she’s always led a life of creativity. Neibert owned three dance studios in three states and was a morning radio personality for five years.

Camille Neibert is surrounded by her artwork inside Gallery 873 in Ivins, Utah, Jan. 30, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Camille Neibert, St. George News
Camille Neibert is surrounded by her artwork inside Gallery 873 in Ivins, Utah, Jan. 30, 2024 | Photo courtesy of Camille Neibert, St. George News

“I believe that creation is divine,” she said. “Whatever it is. If it’s setting a beautiful table, if it’s making a beautiful meal, if it’s sewing, if it’s writing or whatever you are making more of than when you started. That is divine. It doesn’t matter what your outlet is. This just happens to be mine right now.”

Her art isn’t about the wood or canvas it’s on, it’s about how others feel and connect with it when they see it. She loves hearing how “happy” her art is and telling them the darkness it stems from. Each of her art pieces comes with a personally-written bio on the back that tells her story.

“I tell people, you know what?” she said. “All of that came from, at the time, what was the hardest thing in my life. I knew I could get through it, but I didn’t know if I’d ever feel joy again. And I am hardwired to live a joyful life. So I’m doing it. And it’s awesome.” 

See Neibert’s work inside Gallery 873 in Kayenta at 873 Coyote Gulch Court in Ivins. Visit her website and follow her on Facebook for more information. 

“I paint beauty for ashes because of all I have been given in this beautiful world,” she said. “The people, the love, the light, the dark, the pain, all of it. It is all part of today’s joy. If we can find a way to get through the dark, the light is ten times more brilliant than when we started.”

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