‘Help Is On the Way:’ Memorial art show honoring Barbara Miller-Smith on display at Seven Stars Art Gallery
It’s hard to put a label on the work of Barbara Miller-Smith (1947-2022). Vibrant, Whimsical, Charming, Psychedelic, Colorful, Joyful, and Inspiring are words that come to mind.
Barbara lived to paint, and painted to live, and her decades-long love affair with her art came to an end with her death in July of this year. Her work will be displayed in a show at the Seven Stars Art Gallery in Nevada City until October 29.
Barbara was the eldest child of a large family living in northern Indiana. Her father was ex-Amish, but visited his Amish family with his wife and children throughout her childhood. This gave Barbara an intimate view of life outside the mainstream, and exposed her to the Amish art of quilt making. Amish “crazy quilts” were a big influence on her work.
As a teenage bride of a medical student, Barbara bore two children within a year of each other. When their marriage ended in divorce, she moved with her young children to Indianapolis where there were more interesting employment and cultural opportunities.
In her mid-20s, Barbara was stricken with epilepsy which lasted the rest of her life; she didn’t drive, watch TV or use a computer. At that time she developed an interest in doodling elaborate drawings composed of tiny circles. She took a job at Herron School of Art in Indianapolis as an administrative secretary, and then started to model for art classes. She became a favorite of the students and was always in demand.
After her children went to live with their father in their pre-teens, Barbara began exploring art-making herself. She connected with a small group of artists who were former students at Herron. This began an intense period of discovery and exploration.
Barbara moved with her artist friends to Berkeley in 1979. In 1980, while selling crystal mobiles for a friend on Telegraph Avenue, a troupe of musicians and dancers called Nawar Danse Orientale set up next to the stand. Immediately, they discovered they were kindred spirits, and Barbara and her artist friends moved with the troupe to North San Juan.
There, Barbara became fully immersed in her art, raising a third child, a son, and reuniting with her daughter. She lived off the grid in a small wooden cabin and then in a yurt, which appealed to her love of circles.
Barbara devoted herself to her painting, and she would paint chairs, tables, doors, floors, Styrofoam, rocks, and other objects, making them magnificent. She would put canvases away, only to return to them months later, and layer on colors and lines until they felt “finished.”
Her style was reminiscent of Kandinsky (she had his artwork tattooed on the back of her hands), Klee, Matisse, Pollack, and Picasso, but her paintings were always explorations of her inner depths. Her acrylic and mixed media paintings told stories of love and longing, worlds under the sea, and animals that wore human visages.
She often fantasized about painting in a wedding dress — an homage to her deep love of her work. She continually educated herself with books, music, and listened to the news on her beloved public radio station, KVMR. Her work was informed by her travels to Mexico, Hawaii, Europe, and Southeast Asia, and the vibrancy of the natural world around her.
Despite years of chopping wood and gardening, she was always elegant and stylish, clothed in wonderful boutique and secondhand finds, and immaculate manicures and jewelry. She would have looked at home on Fifth Avenue in New York.
Her paintings have been exhibited in Nevada City, Grass Valley, and North San Juan, and are on walls locally and – literally – all over the world.
There will be a reception/art opening on Saturday, Oct. 15, from 2 to 6 p.m. at Seven Stars, and a memorial service at the North Columbia Schoolhouse and Cultural Center on Sunday, Oct. 30, at 2 p.m. Seven Stars Gallery is located at 210 Spring Street, Nevada City, and is open Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Seven Stars Art Gallery
WHAT: Help Is On the Way: The Art of Barbara Miller-Smith
WHEN: Oct. 1 – 29
WHERE: Seven Stars Art Gallery, 210 Spring Street, Nevada City
MORE INFO: email@example.com
The second annual Penn Valley holiday fair will take place Saturday, Nov. 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Western Gateway park in Penn Valley.
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