By Gina Malone
It seems art and the call to create have followed Lenore Barnett at every turn in her life: from her mother’s providing her with materials at a young age to, later, marrying an artist who gave her the encouragement she needed to think seriously about creating. When she was in seventh grade, a teacher predicted that she would write and illustrate books. Barnett thought it highly unlikely then, but last year— her 90th year, in fact—she published The Night Ship, a children’s book she wrote and illustrated.
“Mention of my childhood makes me think instantly of how my mother would thoughtfully place large white sheets of newsprint on the floor along with a box of crayons,” Barnett says. “She must have been prescient. Not an artist herself, she somehow knew her three- or four-year-old child would be happy for hours. My firm desire to become an artist started then.”
She grew up outside of New York City, where her father’s business was located, in a small town called Crestwood. Troublesome Brook ran alongside the lawn of their home. “I was very young, probably five or six, when I would climb the hill on the other side of the house from the brook, sit on a rocky ledge up there and feel so protected by the surrounding tall trees,” Barnett says. “At some point in my life, I discovered that the places that grab me and thrill me are all heavily forested and usually include a winding brook or small river.”
Two of her three children attended art schools (the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena and Pratt Institute) and her husband attended Parsons School of Design and The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. “I had a wealth of well trained artists around me that I could observe and who probably influenced me enormously,” Barnett says.
When her children were mostly grown, she fell into a real estate career that lasted more than 20 years. “It was so compelling and my time was so completely involved in the work,” she says, “that there was nothing left for art. However, the toddler’s desire had not waned. When it was near time to consider retiring, it was a now-or-never moment.”
Real estate values in Seattle, where she was then living on her own after her husband’s death, had risen dramatically when she began looking for larger living quarters that would house her and the paintings she was creating. “By chance, old friends asked me to visit them in their new home in Hendersonville,” she says. “I took a break from house hunting and made my decision for Hendersonville almost the moment I saw it.”
Through the years Barnett has worked in a variety of mediums: watercolors, acrylics, oil bar, oil pastels, pencils, pens, colored pencils and oils. The last three are her favorites, she says. “While I have been concentrating on oil for a long time now, I still want to do more of the other two if I am granted the time.” Plein air painting was a favorite pastime until use of a cane made it difficult to carry her materials to locations. She works now from photographs she has taken through the years, “using my memory of the way I felt when I saw the scene to try to capture the feeling.” Her work is mostly landscapes and she counts among her greatest influences the American Impressionists.
Being “in the zone” is a well-worn cliché, she says, but it does describe her state of mind when she is painting. “Everything else is wiped out, total concentration takes over, any pain vanishes, time doesn’t exist.” When she is working on a piece, she paints regularly, rather than stopping for lengths of time, to keep the momentum going.
“I have no idea why I must make art,” she admits. “It simply is a fact.” A prolific artist, she is open to having her many paintings exhibited in additional galleries, but for now her work is found exclusively at Firefly Craft Gallery in Flat Rock. “Soon my present exhibit there will change to one I like to call Whimsies,” she says, “a lighthearted exploration of memories of places and friends long gone.”
To see more of her work, visit barnettart.com. Firefly Craft Gallery is located at 2689 D Greenville Highway in Flat Rock. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit fireflycraftgallery.com.