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Washington Voices

Artist, teacher helps others tell stories through art

Thu., July 29, 2010

Priscilla Barnett displays some of her Caribbean-influenced masks she has at the Discovery School.  (Dan Pelle)
Priscilla Barnett displays some of her Caribbean-influenced masks she has at the Discovery School. (Dan Pelle)

Born in Barbados, Priscilla Barnett immigrated with her family to Brooklyn, N.Y., where she attended high school and earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, focusing on sculpting and painting, from Parsons School of Design.

In New York, she taught elementary school and worked with disabled students. She later moved to Alaska after visiting there with a friend. In Ketchikan Alaska, she worked with the disabled at Big Brothers Big Sisters and at the Boys and Girls Club. A pattern of helping others emerged. The pattern came to include helping others use their voices through art.

“One of my biggest desires is to work with children and adults, helping them to express whatever story they have to tell through art,” she said, “We all share the same breath; why not stop and listen and truly look and truly feel?”

When it came time to move on from Alaska, Barnett, 47, picked Spokane, where she drove past the Discovery School, 323 S. Grant St. “When I passed the school, I knew I’d teach there,” she recalled.

Now settled on Spokane’s South Hill with her 14-year old daughter Aisha, Barnett is following her calling of helping others while creating art. Diagnosed with sarcoidosis, characterized by the development and growth of tiny clumps of inflammatory cells in different areas of the body, Aisha has been one of Barnett’s inspirations. “It puts things in perspective,” Barnett explained, “Who cares about material things? Relating with and understanding others are so much more important.”

For the last two years, Barnett has been a preschool teacher at Discovery School. As of late, she has been designing and implementing a new program that incorporates art into traditional education. Recently, she showcased her own work with Katana LaSarte, a student at the school, explaining on a flier that “art bridges the generation gap and is a personal expression no matter what your age.”

Barnett’s work is ageless, at times childlike and other times deep with wisdom. Her acrylic paintings are figurative abstracts full of an array of emotions and relationships among the figures. They dance, embrace, separate, meet, carry one another, or fold in solitude. She sometimes adds sand or coffee grounds for texture. Her mixed media pieces include found objects – embellished masks, dolls and sculptural paintings.

Barnett creates and urges others to do the same in an attempt to express what lies within. “I have many things to say; some things are loud and some are quiet. Art is a safe place for me to get out what’s inside,” she said. “I want my art to touch others, both young and old, from all cultures and all walks of life. I want it to become a friend of sorts.”

Barnett believes art can soothe turmoil, bridge gaps and teach others how to tell stories, how to listen and how to connect to that neighbor you’ve never met.



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