As a professor with the Ohio State University Extension, Barbara James enjoyed a career of teaching family and consumer sciences and community development, focused on local community issues. So she squeezed in time when she could to work on her art. Now retired, Barbara pursues her passion for surface design on textiles with her concern for climate change full time. By dyeing, printing and stitching on textiles, she captures the changes brought to her beloved coastal South Carolina by hurricanes, tidal erosion and other climate concerns.
Fabric has always fascinated me. It excites the senses as it moves and pushes me to fully embrace the sight, sound, touch and even smell of the cloth. It is not a passive experience. So much so, that I obtained bachelors and masters degrees in textiles.
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When was the first time that you realized that you were a creative person?
While a student, I had a difficult time NOT creating. A lot of ideas and so little time! After graduate school, I spent 30 years teaching, so I channeled my creative energies there. Since I have retired, I find it a real luxury to be able to work full time on my art. I am drawn toward color and texture. Dying, printing, stitching and other kinds of surface design on cloth are my medium. That is simply what I do. Though I can appreciate other media, I never have felt the excitement that textile art provides me.
What inspires you to create? Are there recurring themes in your work?
The lush and exotic landscapes of my home on the Sea Islands of South Carolina inspire much of my work. The tide, moon, marshes, grass, and black-water rivers are very atmospheric, so they make for endless inspiration. I have been moved by events that are shaping our natural world. “Wind” was informed by the hurricanes that sweep through the coastal Carolinas. The colors that I used represent the colors and powerful movement in the sky during Hurricane Irma.
My travels are also a theme. For example, “Armchair Travel: Cave Painting”, came about when I had to cancel a trip, because of the pandemic, to France to see the cave paintings at Lascaux.
I have been fortunate to visit museums that feature the work of blown glass artist, Dale Chihuly. A chandelier that hangs in the new contemporary art wing of the Columbus Museum of Art inspired “Dance of Glass”. Intuitive dyeing, stenciling, discharging and screen printing guided me through the layers of multiple colors and images to create this piece.
Do you ever work in a series?
I just started a new series that I am calling, “Boneyard: The Shifting Sands of Hunting Island”. During the time of the Corona virus I did a lot of walking and photographing, much of it happening in Hunting Island State Park. It is the most visited state park in South Carolina and for good reason. It is truly spectacular, so it has now become the focus of my work.
The unique beauty of the landscape has seen its share of violent weather and coastal erosion. High tides breach the dense shoreline. As a result, we lose fifteen feet of forest each year! This drama is most visible on The Boneyard, a small stretch of beach on the south side of the island. The ocean cuts into the forest, thus downing 100’s of palmetto and pine trees, an after-effect of climate change. Dead trees fall and twist around each other making for an eerie, yet elegant, landscape. After the trees have been down for some time, they bleach out in the sun, then mimicking bones. The first piece I made in this series is “Carried Away I.”
So “The Boneyard” will be the focus of your work over the next few years. How else do you see your work evolving?
2020 has brought so many changes in my art practice. I experimented with new techniques and materials to break through some of the barriers that have stopped me from fully expressing myself. When I downsized my studio space, I responded to the Covid-19 safety recommendations. This has challenged as well as liberated me to work with more 3-D and collage to create textural pieces that enhance my 2-D work.
If our readers want to find out more about you and your work, do you have a website?
Yes, it is www.barbarajamesart.com.
Interview posted April 2021
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