November 5, 2009 in Washington Voices

Artist incorporates play into her work

Jennifer Larue
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Barbara Clark stands next to one of her whimsical metal sculptures, which she called “Walter Manthis” in honor of the passing of actor Water Matthau, in her yard Oct. 28.
(Full-size photo)

Art quote of the week

“Sculpture and painting have the effect of teaching us manners and abolishing hurry.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), philosopher and poet

Barbara Clark’s northwest Spokane home is a tribute to her creative and playful spirit. You cannot turn within its walls or on its grounds without being faced with evidence that an artist lives there.

“I have a lot of creative energy,” she said. “I always have to be doing something with my hands, and there are so many things to do.”

In the yard, a metal woman in oversized shoes and a safari hat sits on a rock as she peers up at the sky through binoculars. More figurative sculptures go about their business; one serves as a lifeguard at the birdbath, one rides a bike, and others survey the gardens. A dog with floppy ears and a large snout tilts its head in greeting while birds and bugs forage for food.

Wooden signs lead to places like the studio, gallery, fish pond, “pun garden,” and the “Great China Wall,” which is china firmly attached to a fence. Bowling balls hang by heavy chain in a neat row in Clark’s version of Newton’s cradle that she calls “Clark’s Crib” and three ceramic foot planters with red toenails serve as a visual explanation of “three feet in a yard.”

“I like things to be humorous,” Clark explained.

In the foyer that leads to the kitchen and the basement steps, a china cabinet is painted on one wall, a path leading to a magical cottage adorns another, and low to the ground is the behind of a large pig whose smiling sleeping face can be seen on the wall just outside the back door.

Clark, 80, grew up in Hillyard where her dad was a “railroad guy.” As a child, she made mud pies and houses for her pets. She started painting in oil in 1970 and took as many classes as she could at Spokane Falls Community College. Married 59 years, Clark raised three children. She worked odd jobs for a while but found her calling as wife, mother and artist.

She moved from oil paints to watercolors, and she showed her work at fairs and festivals for 20 years and displayed paintings at the Spokane Civic Theatre, Auntie’s Bookstore and Spokane Art Supply on North Monroe Street.

She met local painter and sculptor Sister Paula Turnbull and traveled with her to paint in Italy, Spain and Greece.

“I started helping Sister Paula with her metal work learning every aspect of welding and brazing. I started gathering objects to make a family history gate and, with a little heat and a rod it was done. I was hooked on metal work,” she said. “My husband said I was too old to start welding, which made me even more determined to learn welding. I bought my equipment and began gathering metal everywhere, like flea markets and garage sales. I did my first sculpture in Sister Paula’s studio in 2000. It was a large ant named ‘Antee Mill’ after the millennium.”

It is apparent that Clark’s hands are never idle. She also does beadwork, Brazilian embroidery and greeting cards. A collection of small clay sculptures of women sit on a shelf in her studio, and fish made of egg cartons and paper sacks hang from the ceiling.

Even after a back operation, hip replacement, surviving breast cancer, being diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her husband’s health problems, Clark still enjoys creating art.

“I told myself I could do a lot of things sitting down,” she said. Her most recent sculpture is a giraffe named Geraldine. “I wasn’t able to put a body on her like I had planned, so with the help of my son Rod, we put her on top of a tree to greet visitors. When they see her they all have a smile on their faces.”

An artist who can put a smile on someone’s face is a job well done, and Clark does it well.


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