WORDS Amanda Dobra Hope
“Everything comes full circle,” he says, and with an almost three-decades-long career crafting one-of-a-kind wood vessels, at 75 years old, Ed Barnes probably knows what he’s talking about.
This year’s Nashville Arts “Stand-Out Award Winner” at the Tennessee Craft fair, Barnes last displayed his work at this show ten years ago. A change in the rules inviting artists from neighboring states allowed this mountain dweller from Virginia to return this year. Knowing this, one of the first questions I ask is if he would share his thoughts on what he found to be the differences between his trip to Nashville ten years ago and today.
“Back then, you could sell anything you made at any price you wanted. Now it’s different. People are spending their disposable income on electronics. Arts programs are being taken out of schools. They’re just starting to reintroduce shop and art because they realized that not everyone will be engineers.” As our conversation unfolds, it appears that the differences he noticed in a decade in the Nashville show parallel the full-circle journey of society, as well as in his life.
The themes of this journey are getting back to simplicity, following your passion, trust, and not worrying so much about money. “My parents were fundamentalist Quakers; art was giggled at,” he recounts of his earlier ambitions to attend art school. Barnes’s father sent him to a Quaker college in Ohio, but he stayed only a year because his heart wasn’t in it. His career path was saved when a music professor took an interest in him and took him to a Van Gogh exhibit. After that trip, the professor told Barnes’s father that his son was going to be an artist, and he should just give up and send him to art school. Thankfully for Barnes and all those who enjoy his art, his father took that advice.
Following college, Barnes became an industrial designer, designing packaging and bottles for large corporations in California. After getting married and having children, though, he realized he did not want to raise his children there, and he moved his family back to the Blue Ridge Mountains, searching again for the simple life. “I come from a woodworking family. I understand the different types of trees and what they’ll do,” he says. He built his own house and studio and realized that by traveling to art shows, he could live in a remote area and sell his art anywhere. So he combined his bottle-making skills with the trees he understood so well and began crafting his vessels. As for his family, Barnes says, “My kids have all grown up, left, and come back. We all live in close proximity to each other now.”
Barnes doesn’t have a cell phone, take credit cards, sell over the phone, or work on consignment. “I will only sell a piece if someone walks into my booth and can pick it up and feel it,” he says.
I ask if Barnes has any final thoughts or words of advice for aspiring young artists. “I want parents to know, if they have a kid who wants to pursue art, don’t kill that spirit. Encourage them to pursue their creative dreams and stop worrying about making so much money. If you really enjoy it, you will make money. You may not be rich, but you’ll always earn enough money.” Wise words indeed from this artist that has seen both his life, and glimpses of society, come full circle.
For more information contact Ed Barnes at firstname.lastname@example.org.