Exhibit showcases nine influential artists
By Paula Harris
ON A RAIN-drenched afternoon Genevieve Barnhart bustles around the chilly A Street Gallery, unwrapping small sculptures and lining paintings and photographs along the floor. Soon the various pieces will be hung, displayed as a tribute to art, to a powerful tradition of mentoring, and to years of friendship.
A trim, tiny dynamo of a woman clad in warm pants, a thick sweater, and touches of silver jewelry, Barnhart has taken on the demanding role of guest curator for "Passing the Gift." This exhibition--a collaboration between Santa Rosa's SoFo2 Gallery and the A Street Gallery--features works by nine deceased Sonoma County artists who all served as teachers and mentors. Their lives and work recall an era when the local arts scene was a very different place.
At age 78, Barnhart still has the bouncy energy and easy curly-lipped smile of a teenager. She is a working sculptor and jeweler, living amid a Sebastopol apple orchard, where she has her studio. And she's also the widow of one of the featured artists, Raymond Barnhart, who died in a car accident four years ago.
The other featured artists are Roger Barr, Paul Beattie, Peter Broome, Morrie Camhi, Florence Dixon, John Kessel, Elizabeth Quandt, and William Morehouse--all of whom have died in the past decade.
The show is a major retrospective, spotlighting some of the most influential artists ever to work and live in the North Bay.
Barnhart was the obvious choice to pull the two exhibits together because she personally knew all of the artists, having met most of them when she and her husband moved to Sonoma County from Kentucky in 1968. Back then, she says, local artists and art teachers were a very close-knit group.
When Barnhart took on this challenge six months ago, she never imagined the job would entail hunting through archives, drawing on collections all over the Bay Area, and even driving beyond the Bay Area searching for treasures to bring back to Sonoma County for this exhibit.
"It [took] all this networking to track the works down," she says. "For example, there were four storage buildings full of Roger Barr's art in Salinas." She spent two days there and was able to bring back some of the larger sculptures--and she also located eight of his collages (many were in private homes), which will also be shown in the exhibit.
Organizers are hoping the public can discover how these artists have been mentors to others and how this important dynamic has affected the growth of arts in Sonoma County.
"All the artists featured were teachers," explains Elisa Baker, exhibition coordinator for the Sonoma County Cultural Arts Council, which will also host a panel discussion on Feb. 7 with the peers and former students of these artists. "And they are passing on a legacy of art and keeping art alive."
John Watrous, longtime instructor of art at Santa Rosa Junior College, says the exhibit will be a "super-important" show. "This is worthy of a two-year timeline and a $100,000 budget to really do it justice," he says. "Looking at the faces of these people, these artists, [you realize] they probably influenced in total close to a million students."
Lost and Found: Raymond Barnhart has an affinity for the unusual.
THE EXHIBIT will feature examples of Raymond Barnhart's evocative totemic assemblage work. In these pieces, he used found objects--such as feathers, bones, broken toys, and scraps of glass--to create designs, and then housed them in heavy wooden frames.
One of the best-known artists showcased is Roger Barr, who was commissioned to create several important public art works. His large stainless-steel sculpture decorates San Francisco's Embarcadero, and a copper fountain he created graces the area across from Santa Rosa's City Hall. "Barr was a painter and sculptor very intrigued with the human figure," says Barnhart. "We will include works that relate to this."
The show will also feature some of painter Paul Beattie's exquisitely detailed graphite-pencil drawings of planets and planet surfaces, which illustrate his love of astronomy. "He was always aiming his telescope at the heavens," recalls Barnhart.
The exhibit will also feature works by Peter Broome, who was primarily a jeweler, but who also worked on larger bronze sculptures. "[Broome] was really a fine technician," says Barnhart. "We will show several of his creations."
Photographic art will be represented by Morrie Camhi's stunning The Jews of Greece, a well-known series of black and white photographs that trace the artist's ancestral roots through the faces and forms of a variety of people he met during visits to Greece.
Works by painter and metalworker Florence Dixon will also be on display. She specialized in copper jars and bowls, jewelry, and found objects assembled and welded into whimsical animal forms. "Dixon's whole estate went to the Sonoma County Museum, and boxes of her work were found unopened in the bowels of the museum's basement," says Barnhart. "I'm glad we are featuring her, because she trained many apprentices and was so important as a mentor."
John Kessel, who taught at Santa Rosa Junior College, was known for his collage work. "He had a unique mind," recalls Barnhart. "He was the gridman." Indeed, the exhibit will showcase some of Kessel's richly colorful drawings, all designed on grids.
Photograph by Rory MacNamara
Another well-known local artist was William Morehouse, a plein-air painter and member of the influential Sonoma Four. The show will feature some of his 80-inch-tall landscapes, and also a set of subway paintings done at New York train stations.
Last but not least is master printmaker Elizabeth Quandt. In addition to prints, the show will feature some of her delicate watercolors. Some of Quandt's work can also be found at San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor, says Barnhart.
"We'll have a portfolio of each artist in each of the two galleries for people to get to know more about their lives, with contact numbers of the families or the galleries that represent each artist, in case people want to see more of their work," explains Barnhart.
The guest curator adds that assembling all the pieces has been a bittersweet challenge for her after meeting with families and unearthing sometimes long-forgotten works.
"It was a time when there were fewer artists here, and we were all friends," Barnhart recalls with that easy, curly-lipped smile while gazing across the room at an assemblage piece in a heavy-wood frame. "There was more interconnectedness, we even got together socially. That doesn't happen now."
"Passing the Gift" opens Saturday, Jan. 20, with a reception at both galleries from 5 to 8 p.m. SoFo2 plays host to a moderated panel discussion about the nine artists and their influence on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. Regular gallery hours are Monday-Saturday, from 12 noon to 5 p.m. The exhibit runs through Feb. 23 at A Street Gallery (312 S.A St., Santa Rosa) and the SoFo2 Gallery (602 Wilson St., Santa Rosa). 707/579-2787.
From the January 18-24, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.