Barbara Lee Smith

 
Marshland Reflections, acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 42 x 49.5inMarshland Remembered, acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 42 x 49.5inWhitecaps (4 panels), acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 6 x 12ftWhitecaps (2 middle panels-detail), acrylic on stitched synthetic material, (4 panels total)
Nica Walls: Light & Shadow (6 panels), acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 9.5 x 28in eachDaybreak, acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 6 x 4ftAlmost Summer (detail), acrylic on stitched synthetic material,  six panels-19 x 22in eachAlmost Summer (six panels), acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 19 x 22in each panel
Greeting Seasons (4 panels), acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 67.5 x 9.5in (each panel)Mountain Grasses (2 panels), acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 25 x 50inMountain Grasses (bottom panel), acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 10 x 50inNear the Harbor, acrylic on stitched synthetic material, 35 x 49.5in
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Growing up in Cape May, New Jersey brought me into everyday contact with the Atlantic Ocean, and much of my life has been spent finding my way from one coast to the other. The urge to be near salt water infused my work while living in Chicago for many years, and as I finally landed more than ten years ago in the Pacific Northwest on a small island in Puget Sound, my work evolved from non-representational images to evocations of the land, sea and sky. I still aim for qualities of abstraction, but focus on the believable. I want to honor the land and sea as we know it - the rhythms of nature - and influence minds to remember what we have in order to sustain it for the future.

I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up; a teacher possibly, a musician since I had some gifts in that direction; maybe a librarian since I loved to read, except that our local grouchy librarian was a discouraging role model. I didn't think too much about art, although I distinctly remember a Life Magazine article on Jackson Pollack when I was about ten. Strong encouragement from home put me into Home Economics - a safe choice for a minister's daughter in the '50s. I wasn't a sterling student, asking too many questions and not tying all my threads.


One of the BS requirements was 2-D Design 101 where I discovered that I had been using basic design concepts for years and I that I really enjoyed mixing paint. Much of what I knew about music seemed to resonate with the visual exercises. The class was located next to the small college gallery where I experienced a show of Abstract Expressionists as well as an extraordinary collaboration between John Cage and Merce Cunningham. Something seeped into my soul during that time, mixed in with the dreaded home management house ("housework is love made visible") and stealing time for music. A lot more life happened before I chose to pursue fine art with an emphasis on textiles.  I received my MFA in Mixed Media around the time I turned 40, honored as a University Scholar. 

I have been honored for my work by our local Art Commission’s Career Award, named an honorary member of the Embroiderers' Guild of England, as well as Distinguished Resident by the Ragdale Foundation. My work is in the collection of the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, the Racine Art Museum, the Indianapolis Art Museum and various collections here at home and also in Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America.

Materials: I use only one material, an industrial grade polyester non-woven fabric. It looks like paper, but it is so tough, I can’t even tear it. It is my canvas on which I paint using Golden and Daniel Smith acrylics as well as silk-paint pigments, all chosen for light-fastness. Each finished piece attaches with Velcro to a wooden frame that is mounted behind the work, pushing it away from the wall so it appears to hover on the wall, casting its shadow.

Process and Techniques: I make a painting on the material, then bond several layers together to form a heavy base on which to collage small elements of the same painted material that are heat-set in place. The final stage that literally and visually binds the work together is drawing with the sewing machine in lines that resemble a topographical map. I see this as a three-stage process of painting, collage and drawing to make the work. What do I call it? I call it art. Mixed Media is probably the simplest category.

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