Barbara Rowlett-Rheingrover
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Mound City News
Mound City, MO, August 1, 2002

Painter, Sculptor
Her success rooted in childhood

By Linda Boultinghouse

Barbara Rowlett Rheingrover is a Georgia-based award-winning painter and sculptor whose work is recognized nationally and internationally. She has created numerous paintings and more than 400 sculptures, and her works are found in private and corporate collections across the United States and worldwide. In 1997, she was honored as “One of the Top Georgia Women in the Visual Arts.”

But she has never forgotten her northwest Missouri heritage, she said. “It’s very important to never forget your roots and where you came from,” as those are the things that have helped “make you what you are.”

She was born near Mound City, but moved as a very young child with her family to a farm near Burlington Junction, where she spent much of her childhood. She is the youngest of nine children of Jerry and Dale Crist Rowlett the three oldest children graduated from the Mound City School. She remembers coming back to Mound City from Burlington Junction “to go out in the bottom and detassel corn.”

None of her immediate family remains in Holt County, but she has many other family connections in the area, and returns every few years for a Crist reunion, she said.

Her oldest brother Jerry, who lives in Independence, sent a newspaper clipping about her to the Mound City News, suggesting people in this area might be interested in hearing about her latest accomplishments.

Jerry, she said, “is wonderful. He has been an inspiration to me through my life.”

She published a book earlier this year about her sculpting, “My Love Affair in Stone”, and she’s been the subject of recent newspaper articles, one in North Carolina and one in Georgia, written in conjunction with exhibits of her series of dramatic bronze works, ‘Seasons of Life.”

A highlight of her sculpting career is the creation of a 5 1/2-ton Italian statuario Carrara marble sculpture, “Ovation” dedicated on the site of the Olympic Village at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. It remains as a centerpiece of the Georgia Tech campus.

She begins her book by telling how captivated she was as a child with the “beauty, shape and texture of the pebbles and stones found along the creek beds behind my home on the farm.”

In a phone interview last week, she said she and her sister used to ‘wander that creek bed. I would put stones in my pocket or a little bag.” Her brothers and sisters thought her “an oddity because I liked stones,” she said, laughing.

Now 59, she had been a painter for many years before she began sculpting when she was about 40. A friend asked her to a slide/lecture by a carver, and, "I fell in love with it. I had to try it.”

Her mother was a homemaker but also had been an accomplished pastel artist, and her father was a farmer, inventor and carpenter - she feels her talent has roots in their interests. "I think I got the enjoyment of working with my hands from him.”

Barbara recalls seeing many of her mother’s works in the family farmhouse while growing up. When she was 11, the home burned. “All that was saved of those paintings were the first one Mother did when she was 16 and one other - both of them hang on my walls today.”

She describes her interest in art as eclectic - she likes to paint and sculpt in all styles, abstract and contemporary as well as realistic. When she gets exhausted or bored with sculpting, “then I pick up a brush.” She paints in whatever medium strikes her - oil, acrylic or watercolor.

"I love being able to do it all, and I say that not in a prideful way at all. I am thankful that God has given me these gifts they have been a blessing to me over the years. Art is not a job - I’m doing what I love.”

She has no intentions of stopping. “Attitude is everything,” she says. People have asked her now that she’s nearing 60 “how much more time do I have to create. ”I just laugh. I’m going to be carving and painting into my 90s. That’s really my dream - even if I’m just carving a small piece of Ivory soap,” she adds, laughing. She has more than 250 planned sculptures in her sketchbook. It is said that “art is life ... it keeps you young,” she adds.

She lives about 12 miles from Jasper, her place in the Georgia Mountains overlooking the city. Her studio and a display gallery are there, too, “up here with black bears and wild turkeys.”

"It lends itself to creating. I love people, but I also love privacy and quiet ... as an artist I have to have my own little niche.”

She has received numerous awards, been the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles, and has shown her work at numerous invitational exhibitions. She also has taught privately, including in Italy, and at colleges and seminars, and has been a guest lecturer and artist-in-residence.

One of her accomplishments is creating an art exhibition for the visually impaired, an idea that occurred to her one night when she turned off the lights while working in order to get another perspective on the piece. “It was as though a burst of light went off in my head,” she says in her book.

She eloquently sums up her work in a conclusion to her book: “It is an intense love and reverence for organic material, especially stone, that distinguishes my artistic style. My inspiration derives from nature, which is blended with fantasy and reality. Art is more than simple beauty which everyone sees and understands. It should evoke a response and raise questions. I continually strive to ... bring unique qualities of expression to my sculpting.”

"My personality dictates a wide variety of form, texture, color, content and material. I work in marble, alabaster, limestone, aluminum, bronze, and steel to create strength and softness, light and shadow. I travel and work in Italy and choose my stone; this enhances my knowledge an creativity. The love of the mountains of Italy provides further inspiration for the lyrical forms of my work. "I work toward perfection for the enjoyment of the viewer, and to touch the deepest emotion, capture the eye and free the imagination of the beholder.”

The sudden loss of her husband Gary when he was only 52 was a traumatic blow to Barbara Rowlett-Rheingrover, but it was a factor that led her to create a compelling series of bronze works that capture universal human feelings - and that are a reflection of her deep spirituality.

"This idea came after my husband died," she said, adding she felt a need to express her feelings - feelings she knew she shared with many others who had endured losses.

He died in 1994, and she began the series of seven pieces late in 1997. Called “Seasons of Life,” the pieces are titled, “Redemption,” “Despair,” “Anger,” “Fear,” “Forgiveness,” ‘Trust,” and “Hope.”

She has said they are her way of “expressing my feelings of thankfulness for the wonderment of life encompassing all its aspects from despair to hope.”

And viewers are connecting. "I have had more people comment on the emotional quality (in them),” she said last week. She said one woman told her she went to the exhibit feeling angry and depressed, but ‘came away feeling wonderful.”

That reaction reflects a hope Barbara expressed in her book: “Whatever your station in life might be, my hope is you will view this work with an open mind and heart and walk away with a renewed spirit, knowing you have been touched by a greater power than yourself.” And, she says, in an accompanying exhibit brochure: “... we want the viewer to be touched in a powerful and contemplative way.” Creating them, she said in an interview, “has helped me grow, too.”

She has more in mind for these pieces - a lot more. Her plan is to duplicate them in Italian statuario Carrara marble — 10 feet tall, 5 feet wide. “They’re going to be monumental.” Her plan is to place them around the world, and she’s working with corporations on funding. It’s at least a seven-year project, she said.

She'll return to Pietrasantra, Italy, to work on them, a place where she has spent much time over the years, carving, studying and teaching.

The "Seasons of Life" bronze works, with her accompanying paintings, have been on exhibit at Kennesaw State College in Georgia; part of the exhibit went to Asheville, NC. It’s now at Dahlonega, Ga., for several months. Plans are under way for the exhibit to next go to Hot Springs, Ark.

More of her work can be viewed at www.barbararheingrover.com. A firm that has some of her paintings and sculpture for sale is Art Exchange, which can be reached at listing@art-exchange.com and www.art-exchange.com

 
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