Sculptor T Barny has lived a charmed artistic life. He was still a student at Rhode Island School of Design in 1979, when his critical success was assured by his first commissioned piece, an eagle with a five-foot wingspan. It also gave him a strong taste of excitement and frustration, when one of the wings broke. He successfully navigated that event, when the commissioner accepted that accidents happen. He even received a bonus for the completed eagle.
He’s been a working artist since that first commission. His works take from two weeks, the quickest he can finish a creation, to seven years, for a particularly “uncooperative stone.”
Now the artist is determined to meet a new goal he set for himself: To work in 200 types of stone before he reaches his 60th birthday on August 8. Last December, T Barny calculated that he had worked in 179 types of stone from 41 different countries. That number is now at 186, including pieces in progress. He has all the stones except one.
Just off Pine Flat Road in the Alexander Valley, amidst the splendor of grape vines and oak trees, the sculptor’s property offers a visual treat. Signs and yard art complement the hundreds of organ pipe cactus sporting large white blossoms. Stones invite investigation.
As an artist, T Barny is both friendly and self-confident. He says, “I do things with stone others cannot do.” Touch is the method by which he works and his tactile sense is well honed. His ability to conceptualize space informs his work.
“The stones direct me more than I direct the stone,” says T Barny. He notes that “you can’t put something back,” so he’s deliberate in his work, and considers himself “a psychologist of stone.”
T Barny, whose name is a play on his birth name, which he wouldn’t divulge, has lived and worked in Healdsburg for 35 years. He feels the place is the perfect fit for him. In his Alexander Valley studio he can “make all the noise and dust” he has to in order to create sculptures large and small.
The 59-year-old T Barny was born in San Francisco, attended Choate Rosemary Hall School in Connecticut, as well as Denison University in Ohio, Stanford and Brown universities. He has a bachelor’s degree from the Rhode Island School of Design and a master’s of fine arts degree from the Royce School of Design in Mountain View. He is married to Melinda Barnard, the vice president for faculty affairs at Sonoma State University.
In addition to his work in stone, he has worked in bronze, wood, water, steel and ice. He does not pour his own bronze, but uses Bronze Plus art foundry in Sebastopol. He’s worked with them for 30 years. Working in stone poses some unique challenges, including sourcing materials, which often take up to a year to receive. Suppliers “like him because he takes unique sizes of stone.”
The sculptor averages 28 pieces each year in sizes ranging from 1 feet to 9 feet tall. He uses hand tools and power tools. When asked about favorite pieces, T Barny says that his favorite piece is the “piece he is working on today.”
T Barny said his mind sees in three dimensions and he knows that space and touch play an important role in each of his works.