Penelope Krebs: From LA Hard-Edge to Ornithological Art

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To be an abstract artist in LA in the 1980s was the next best thing to being lead singer in a punk band. You lived in a downtown LA loft and partied with celebrities.  Hard-edge artist Penelope Krebs enjoyed the perks of the scene for nearly 20 years until the death of her husband, fellow artist William Dwyer, in 2004.

Cedar Waxwing on pomegranate branch

Then Krebs stopped painting her huge geometric canvases. The magic of all those lines and colors–the magic of the parties–was gone for her. Someone told her there were artists living near Joshua Tree National Park and she thought maybe she could start again there.

As we know, plenty of LA artists have moved to Joshua Tree in recent years. The path from city to country is not unique. But what happened next for Krebs was more than anyone could have predicted–especially the artist herself.

An untitled Penelope Krebs’ abstract painting

When she moved into a renovated Morongo homestead in 2005, she wasn’t painting; and her work doing research for lawyers had slowed due to the recession. Krebs sat outside a lot and worried. That’s when she began to notice the birds. Krebs unknowingly had moved to a major stopover on the Pacific Flyway, with more than 250 species of resident and tourist birds for neighbors.

Throughout time, of course, birds have claimed the attention of artists. From Hieronymus Bosch to John James Audubon, many people have painted birds. (For more on ornithological art, see the Birds in Art show at the Wildling Museum in Los Olivos through January 2, 2011.)

The Morongo birds had Krebs’ attention, alright, but she was uneasy painting them because of the anti-realism bias common to abstract painters. Painting a bird that looked like a bird seemed vaguely quaint, like crocheting. What would Bill (her late husband) have thought if she started painting house finches?

Immature verdin on trumpet plant

But paint a finch she did, and one finch led to another. Soon she was hanging up feeders and adding bird-friendly plants to the desert landscaping around her house.

The painter once known for huge abstract bands of color began to sell paintings of orioles and grosbeaks. Her abstract artist friends from LA were having a hard time selling work, but the birds were flying out the door. Krebs was even invited to paint a honeycreeper for the Smithsonian’s “Darwin’s 100th Birthday” celebration.

At a recent show at the Lincart Gallery in San Francisco, the bird paintings sold out. A reviewer on the website wrote: “I don’t know about you, but to me $2200 isn’t exactly chump change….But it’s a non-issue—all the birds are sold, and deservedly so. Chew on this: Who would have thought vanguard San Francisco artsters would ever embrace wildlife art?”

Mature Verdins

Krebs’ champion in the transition from abstract to representational has been her sister, Pamela Carroll, a realist painter from Carmel. When the two were little they painted birds together with no thought of whether it was cool. But then Krebs went off to study abstract art at the UCSB College of Creative Studies with teachers John McCracken and James Hayward.

Krebs later showed her hard-edged abstract work extensively in the LA area and was reviewed in the LA Times, Art in America and many other publications. Decades later, it was her sister who encouraged her to return to hummingbirds and sparrows. (The sisters’ grandmother, Alma Carmody, was a landscape painter in 29 Palms, so there may have been some inspiration in the gene pool, as well.)

On a recent morning, Krebs’ yard was alive with quail, roadrunners, doves and a monster jackrabbit nibbling cactus. The artist opens all her windows and listens to bird chatter while painting; her work table is positioned in front of multiple feeders. To soak in even more birds, she goes hiking every morning in Morongo Preserve with her black lab, Pip, and looks for migrant species flitting in and out of the cottonwoods. “I don’t consider myself a birder,” she says. “I don’t know birds that well.”

Penelope Krebs, photo by Cheryl Jordan

It’s the physical act of painting she loves, the layer upon layer upon layer of tiny strokes it takes to capture a thrasher’s wing. This style of bird painting calls on the same attention to formality and precision as her earlier abstract work.

Surrounded by birds living and painted, Krebs is still somewhat unclear where all of this is leading. “I’m on a journey and I’m hoping the birds will take me to another place.”

Whatever the future holds for her art, she does know one thing: “The birds saved my life.”

For more on Penelope Krebs, or to order paintings, cards or prints, see her website:

Or write to:

Or, if you’re visiting the Morongo Valley, see her work at Cactus Mart, 49889 29 Palms Highway, Morongo Valley. (760) 363-6076.

You can meet Krebs at La Quinta’s Art Under the Umbrellas, November 6, or at the Stevens Park art festivals and the Palm Springs Arts Festival January 21-23, as well as other events around the Coachella Valley.

Northern Cardinals

27 comments for “Penelope Krebs: From LA Hard-Edge to Ornithological Art

  1. Beautiful! Penny has always been a great painter, and it seems she still is! Fly Penny fly!

  2. it’s a joy to see the excitement in penny when she starts a new bird and the love for her birds flow into them.

  3. Hi Penelope,
    I visited your “booth” at the Village Fest in Palm Springs, on Thursday evening, March 31, 2011. I purchased the print of the Western Chickadee with pinecone. I really appreciate your talent, and that you have opened your heart to the beauty of the birds of the SouthWest.
    Thank you so much.

  4. I was shopping in Carmel in store. I love how you paint the bird they are very pretty. I want to see more printed on line. So what web site should I go to. You do a wonderful job panting birds. Love birds.o

  5. I was extremely fortunate to purchase one of your prints at a Savers Store today. I have NO IDEA how it got into a store like Savers but I grabbed it up as quickly as possible. The only thing I can imagine is that someone may have passed and it ended up in Savers. Being an Artist as well, I know the best of work when I see it and I got lucky and hit the jackpot. It is a numbered print titled: “Greater Roadrunner”. I love birds as well and teach painting in all mediums in the Henderson/Las Vegas area. My love is painting in oils but also love to paint watercolors. I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know how wonderful your painting is and it will be hanging on my wall soon. It is in mint condition. I will treasure it. I will be sure to view more of your work on line. I have works of art on Facebook and would love to friend you. Do keep painting . . . Fondly, Jan

  6. Hi Penelope — I love your work, much preferring the realism to the abstraction… Karin and I live in Idyllwild which at the moment is hovering at 21 degrees F. Had the idea to explore your neighborhood for affordable homes for parts of the winter, or someone who would like to exchange for a while, as we are getting a bit tired of the long stretch of 15-35 deg. weather.
    What I really wanted to ask you was about your website which at the moment is a blank slate of grey. Am off to search for more birds… Thank you so much ! Richard

  7. It was terrific meeting you at the Pelican Days Birding Festival. Your work is so beautiful. I’ve just sent off my first Hummingbird card. I know it will delight the recipient. I’ll be sure to look for the artist hiking with her Black Lab in Big Morongo as I ‘bird’ the area, your newest fan, Bob Dwyer

  8. While visiting family in Washington, D.C. I was fortunate enough to come across a collection of note cards with your artwork in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I snatched them up for myself and another set as a gift for a friend who is also a bird lover. I’m afraid that I didn’t think ahead, though, and will be in big trouble when I see my mother and don’t have a set for her. She will be green with envy and I will be visiting your website soon to look for a way to supply her with her own.
    Truly think your work is just stunning and hope to see more of it in the future. I’ll be framing those note cards and making a lovely grouping where they will be seen and enjoyed by all. Thank you for all your hard work,
    Virginia White

  9. Good day. My mother left us some paintings she acquired in the late 50’s to early 60’s from a W.E. Dwyer from the New Orleans area. Would your husband have been the creator of these works?

  10. I know it’s a long shot, but I love birds and am wondering if you do any teaching, specifically to non skilled/non art-educated bird lovers?

  11. Your abstracts as well as the bird paintings are stunning to say the least! Genetics could very well have had some bearing in your considerable talent as an artist. I recently had the wonderful luck of finding a painting (12×16) by, I believe, your grandmother Alma Carmody. It is signed “Alma Carmody 65”. The frame has one of those old, sort of quirky plastic DYMO labels which reads “Big Candy Mountain”. I am so thrilled to have this painting – the colors are so beautiful and looks wonderful in my home!

  12. Hi Penelope, I was at the Thursday night street fair on Feb. 27th, 2014 and left you my address to send me the hummingbird with the red flower. I was hoping that it would be here already but nothing has arrived. Please contact me if there is any problem with this order.
    Love your work:)

  13. Hi Penelope,
    Last year at the La Quinta Arts Festival I bought two of your beautiful prints for my granddaughter. I would love to buy one more this year but I don’t think you are there this year. Will you be at the Arts
    Under the Umbrella on Main street later this month? I hope you will since we are leaving this beautiful valley April 2nd.

  14. Penelope Krebs! I picked up a pack of your cards at Pinnacles National Park. I would like to buy more of these cards. Can you send or email me instructions for ordering the cards?
    Thank you!
    Dave Rorick
    771 9th Av.,
    S. F., CA 94118

  15. Hi Penelope,
    I was at the Palm Springs street fair last thursday evening and discovered your art. I am really interested in purchasing a couple of your prints and was wondering if you sell your work elsewhere in the Palm Springs area? I overheard someone saying you have your work in Idyllwild as well? Chickadees, Juncos and Kingfisher are all in our backyard up North! We are visiting from Victoria, British Columbia and would love to take it back with us. Otherwise, I won’t be able to be back at the fair until May…
    Thanks, Jocelyn

  16. I purchased a package of note cards at the Annenburg Library/Sunnyland. I would
    like to know if I can purchase any online. These will make wonderful gifts.
    Thank you!

  17. I am looking for note cards to purchase. I have birds of the northeast and would like to purchase more. Where?

  18. Mr. Krebs

    I am trying to find out if a geometric/ abstract painting I acquired some time ago is by you. It is an amazing, large oil on canvas that resembles some examples of your work found on the web. I would love to attribute it to you, can you help? Thank you

  19. hello I have a picture your grandmother painted and would like to know more about her and her artworks I live in joshua tree and would love to hear anything you might like to share.thanks

  20. Hi Penelope
    I bought hummingbird cards from you in Palm Springs & would love to order more. Do you also have canvas or posters? Do you have a schedule for upcoming events? I just love your art!!!
    Ps: I can’t seem to log on to your website.

  21. Wendy + Max
    Just because we are your friends doesn’t mean we can’t say how much we love your work AND you!

    My cousin has ‘our roadrunner’ at her house in Vancouver and we have ours in Rancho Mirage. We both feel honoured.

  22. I manage a museum shop in the Pittsburgh, PA area and would consider carrying your bird note cards in the shop. Where can I get them wholesale? Thank you.

  23. I sure wish you would put your website with prints to purchase back up! I have purchased several of your bird prints and would like more. Love your work!

  24. Hi there, my name is Tom McCaffrey, I’m a goldsmith. I live in Michigan City Indiana. I have been buying your bird cards for years from Lubeznic Gallery for years and using them as Christmas cards. But, this year I cannot find them anywhere. What should I do?
    On the subject or birds I observed 2 or 3 pairs of Henslow’s Sparrows in a scrub grass area on the outskerts of Michigan City.
    ?? Miss your art.

  25. I first met Penelope in Palm Springs immediately purchased several of her works and fell in love with them and now need more!

  26. I too would like to buy notecards by Penelope Krebs. If anyone has info, please let me in on it! Thanks!

  27. Penelope, we have enjoyed knowing you and always enjoyed admiring your flawless art of birds.

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