By Eleanor Ruffes
Artist Barbara Baer resides in Julington Creek. A self-proclaimed “coal miner’s daughter,” Baer comes from a long line of craftspeople who create with their hands. Born in Kentucky, Baer moved to Cocoa Beach as a teenager when her father accepted a position with NASA as a mechanic. Baer’s mother was a seamstress and painter, as was her older sister. It was inevitable that Baer would follow in her family’s footsteps.
As a young adult, Baer and her family eventually settled in St. Johns and built their Julington Creek home “when there was nothing else around.” It wasn’t until she was 42 that she tried her hand at painting, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Baer’s older sister encouraged her to marry her love of painting with her exquisite sewing skills. Baer has since been invited to show her “paintings with fabric and thread” at art shows around Florida.
- How did you get involved in art using fabric and thread?
I was always using fabric and thread to create furnishings for the home — upholstering chairs, creating curtains, couches. I had a real gift for sewing. I tried my hand at painting later in life and my older sister, who is a fine artist, suggested I combine my desire to paint with my gift of sewing. I tried using fabric on a painted canvas at first, but that just wasn’t working for me. I prayed to the Lord to help me and tell me how to use my gifts that He gave me. At that time, I was going to the library and checking out books on painting. The second book I opened was a book about Vincent Van Gogh. The moment I opened the book, the brushstrokes just jumped out at me. At that moment I knew I would replicate Van Gogh’s energetic brush strokes and vibrant colors using zig-zag stitches. I call the fabric and thread creations my “fabrications.” They’re essentially fabric and thread replicas of paintings by Master artists.
- Who taught you how to sew?
Well, my mother and older sister both knew how to sew. My mother was too busy to teach me and my sister didn’t want to. So when I was 15 I began looking over my sister’s shoulder, and I just taught myself from watching her
- Who is your favorite master artist and why?
Definitely Vincent Van Gogh. He is the one that inspired me to do all of this. After I began creating my fabrications, I researched Van Gogh’s life in depth. I familiarized myself with his letters to his brother Theo. Van Gogh was such an interesting man and had so much going on; so much more than just cutting off his ear, which is the only thing most people know about him. He was a preacher, a very religious man.
- What advice do you have for anyone who has a dream, but faces an obstacle?
I was 42 years old when I completed my first painting. I didn’t begin creating my fabrications until well after that. It’s never too late; don’t worry about being “too old.” I’ve had people from all over the world come up to me at art shows, applauding me for creating art at a later stage in life. When people ask how I did it I just say, “I prayed to God. I asked Him to show me how to use my talents. I said if He would just show me, I would credit my talents to Him. And He did. So I do.”
- What is one of your fondest memories you would like to share?
My husband took me to view the Van Gogh exhibit in Washington D.C. at the National Gallery in 1999. We flew up there and it was one of the best trips I ever had. The first painting I saw when I walked in was Van Gogh’s “Potato Eaters.” It was amazing.
Photos courtesy Eleanor Ruffes