Veteran local artist Genevieve Barnhart, 95, honored with Sebastopol exhibit
Genevieve Barnhart, lively and slightly salty at 95 and a leading Sonoma County artist for the past half-century, might be termed a trailblazer, role model and mentor, but she could never be called a glory seeker.
“Gen is not one to blow her own horn,” said Khysie Horn, curator of the new exhibit “A Pilgrimage: The Sculpture & Photography of Genevieve Wilson Barnhart,” opening Thursday at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts.
“Gen is part of a generation of Sonoma County artists, most of them no longer with us, who really shaped and influenced art being made here in the past and the present,” said Horn, former owner of the Quicksilver Mine Co. gallery.
“She continues to be an ardent supporter of her fellow artists, and rarely takes credit for her own work,” Horn added.
Barnhart herself, however, puts it slightly differently.
“I said, ‘No, I don’t need a show,’” Barnhart said in a wry voice. “I’m done. I’m too old. I’m in my 96th year. What the hell? But I’ve got friends who are fans. Now, I’ve gotta dress up and go.”
If the artist sounds a bit tough, that’s because she had to be, coming up as an artist in photography and sculpture, fields still dominated by men in the mid-20th century.
“You had to fight for everything,” she said.
Barnhart still lives in the home that she and her husband, artist Raymond Barnhart, built in 1968 and where they both had their art studios. She married Raymond, 17 years her senior, in 1965 and while they were both artists, they weren’t necessarily collaborators.
“He never came to my studio and I never went to his,” Genevieve said.
“But he was good with words, so he helped name the pieces.”
The Barnharts enjoyed a long and well-deserved reputation for supporting other local artists.
“Ray and I used to go to all the openings of all the art shows,” Genevieve recalled. “He said, if an artist goes to all of the trouble to put on a show, we should go out of our way to go.”
After Raymond died in a car accident in Oregon in 1996 at the age of 93, Genevieve’s own artistic endeavors gradually lost momentum, she recalled. In recent years, fading vision has halted her work.
One suspects that beyond the crusty remarks, the artist does appreciate the effort it took for her fans to put on the new retrospective show.
“How do you say ‘Thank you,’ for a show you didn’t particularly want to do?” she said with a dry chuckle. “But I’m not doing it. They’re doing it all.”
“A Pilgrimage” will run simultaneously at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts with an ambitious exhibit of art from private collections, titled “reverberations: A Visual Conversation” presented in conjunction with a series of special programs, including lectures, poetry readings and short films. See the information box with this story for details.