Dorothy Gill Barnes

I love it when serendipity brings me to a new artist and this morning I was introduced to the practice of Dorothy Gill Barnes. 

Banded Pine Bark Basket, 1984
Pine bark
Racine Art Museum, Gift of the Barnes Family
Photography: Jon Bolton, Racine,


All Things Considered was an exhibition of fellow basket makers.


heavy oak bark, apple branches and copper wire, 
36″ x 60″ x 6″, 1995

The  piece above is on sale at Browngrotta Arts

HAYSTACK RIVER BASKET by Dorothy Gill Barnes, photo ©Tom Grotta, courtesy of browngrotta arts

More exciting pieces of natural sculptures ArtTextStyle

Then I came across an interview with her by Joanne Cubbs on the Archives of American Art site. It would have wonderful to hear her speak about her practice but all I could do was read through the transcript. (Oral history interview with Dorothy Gill Barnes, 2003 May 2-7, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

“And I don’t think there’s any place in a classroom, where you can have in-the-woods experience to collect your art materials. You go to a place and buy your art materials. And if you have that access to the out-of-doors and to observing in nature, and then also have in your head the idea that you could either sew it, braid it, paint on it, break it, fold it, pleat it, burn it — all the different things you can do to wood and to bark. And to have that available to you and then have some of the skills that give you the chance to put it together one way or another. Not always the good sense to do it in a proper way, and not always the good sense to make a form that’s interesting, but the trial and error is constant.”

“There’s never a right way, because everything you pick up in nature is going to be different from the thing you picked up in nature before. It’s not duplicated. If you try for the duplicates and try to get exactly the same straight rod of wood from the same kind of tree, time after time after time — there’s a lot of discipline and a lot of learning and a lot of hard work and a lot of persistence for that, and you end up with something beautiful. But I don’t have time to do that because I’m too interested in so many of them that I would rather practice each time and try to do something different with it, because I think I wouldn’t be able to manage the other way. I think that not knowing what I’m going to find and what I’m going to do with it is the thing that keeps me interested.”

“If these things are fussed over too much, I lose it. If I try to correct it in such a way that it looks overworked or I get tired of doing it, my work isn’t going to be as good.”

“And so sometimes I make the repairs very obvious. Or if I’m doing a nice sewing that’s going well and it cracks open or something happens to it, instead of ruining it by correcting it, sometimes I’ll either change and put in a different kind [of material] — something on the same piece — and switch from hickory bark to wax linen if I had to, and not hide it. I mean I feel like sometimes the presentation is better if it’s honest, even if it’s not technically well put together.”

At this point Dorothy mentions John McQueen

KNOT ANATOMY, John McQueen, bark tied with string, 13″ x 25″ x 18″, 2012, photo by Tom Grotta

Dendroglyph – ancient tree carving

Dendroglyph Talk

And there I will leave my reading for today.

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