Q & A -- Roxanne Labbe, Sandwiches & Colored Pencils
Roxanne Labbe, Sandwiches And Colored Pencils

By Michelle Saturley, HippoPress, Manchester, NH

If you've stopped into a local convenience store for a pre-made sandwich, you've probably tasted one made by Roxanne Labbe and her husband. They own a downtown sandwich wholesale business. However, not only is Labbe a talented cook, she's an award-winning artist, and one of the featured artists at East Colony Fine Arts for the month of January. Labbe works mainly in colored pencil, but has recently started branching out into oil painting. If you hear her French-Canadian accent, you might think she's a recent transplant, but Labbe has lived in Manchester for more than 35 years. 

"It's one of those things that never leaves you," Labbe said.

Where in Canada are you from?

I'm from a little village near Sherbrooke. Everyone spoke French there. I got married young -- 21 years old -- and moved here shortly after. I still keep in touch with family back home.

How old were you when you first became interested in art?

I don't really remember how old I was -- it was always just part of me. I was very young when I started drawing. I was always drawing -- even when I wasn't supposed to be. Later, I went to Notre Dame College, where I majored in fine art. I also studied at the Manchester Institute of Art, back when it was called that. It's nice to see how big they've become over the years.

What was it about colored pencil work that attracted you?

I'm the kind of person who pays attention to the little things. I like the detail you get from pencils. Also, when my kids were babies, I liked pencil because it was quick and easy to clean up and there are no chemicals. That's kind of a practical answer for an artist, isn't it?

Why the recent switch to oil painting?

I wouldn't call it a switch, exactly. Now that my kids are older, I have more time to devote to a medium like oil painting. It's a slow process, working with oil. Slow to paint, slow to dry. But I like the colors and textures you can get with it. It's a new challenge for me.

How many kids do you have?

I have two children, a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old. My son who is 20, he goes to school at Southern New Hampshire University. My 16-year-old daughter goes to Central High School.

Are either of them artistic like Mom?

No, unfortunately, neither of them is interested in being artists. They enjoy art, though. They are supportive of me. They're good critics. They always give me their honest opinions on whatever I'm working on.

How did you become a member at East Colony?

Through Jeanne LaChance. She was my drawing teacher at E.W. Poore. She's one of the best colored-pencil artists I've ever seen. I was very excited to be learning from her. She encouraged me to start showing my work. Before that, it was always a side thing. A hobby.

Do you have a day job?

Yes, my husband and I own a sandwich wholesale business. Every morning we get up, go to our space downtown, and make sandwiches. My husband delivers them to the stores. It's a good business. But I'd like to be doing art full time. Maybe someday, but for now, I have to steal my time when I can.

How has becoming a member artist at East Colony changed your career?

Like I said before, it was always just a side thing. I never thought about showing my work. It was just for me. At first, it was hard letting other people see my work, but now I'm enjoying it. People respond positively to it. The other artists at East Colony are so supportive. We all encourage each other and have fun. Since becoming a member artist, I've been doing a lot more commission work. Being in a gallery like East Colony, you meet a lot of people; other artists, art patrons, and so on. It's a great network of people.

What is your favorite subject to draw or paint?

I like to draw animals, because I love animals and I think I'm good at it. Some people have a hard time drawing animals, because of all the angles and textures. That's my favorite part, that and drawing their eyes. That's what makes the portrait real -- the eyes. I like landscapes, too. I like to use bright colors, to infuse the scene with movement. That energizes me.

When you draw animals, how do you get them to sit still for you?

Well, that doesn't really work -- especially for cats. I work from photographs.

What should people expect from your show at East Colony?

Well, it a two-person show. I'm featured along with Gail Hoar. She's a wonderful traditional oil painter. My stuff is a little more contemporary, so you really get the best of both styles with the two of us together. It's going to be a low-key affair, no big reception, just a focus on the art itself. It's after the holidays. People are tired. We wanted something simple for our show.

Have you set any artistic goals for 2005?

I want to show my work more. I've done a lot of outdoor shows -- in Andover, Mass., Peterborough, Nashua and Portland, Maine. I'm a member of the Manchester Artists Association, so I am around many successful artists. I watch what they do, and I think, "I should be doing more." I want to get better about putting my name and my work out there. To be successful, that's what you have to do. I've also been thinking about doing a show in Canada. I've never done that before. It would be a nice way to return to my roots, I think.

You've been in this city a long time. What's your assessment of the current arts/culture scene in Manchester?

The landscape is changing for the better. It's encouraging that there are more art galleries here than ever, and that they can stay in business, most of them, and even do well. It's amazing at the Open Doors nights when you see all different kinds of people, young and old, coming through Langer Place. Not so long ago, Manchester was a"blah" place to live, with rundown buildings and dirt streets. That's changing, and I think it's because people want their city to be beautiful. It's one of the reasons why art is becoming part of the landscape. 

-- Michelle Saturley

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH 

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