HOPKINS COUNTY, KY (5/28/13) – If you live in or around Madisonville, then you’ve probably heard the name Barbie Hunt, which has become synonymous with creativity, spirituality, and brilliant color. Barbie has been embellishing the world with her distinctive artistic flair her entire life, of which, timeframe-wise, she refuses to release specific information about.
“If a woman tells you her age, she’ll tell you anything,” laughs Barbie.
Well-known in Hopkins County for her unique and imaginative style, Barbie is a staple in our area. In turn, many follow her work and any new projects she becomes involved in. Barbie’s art is becoming highly sought after and collected both locally and around the world.
Some of the unique treasures Barbie brings into existence include ceramic pottery, brightly painted silk scarves, collage work, mixed media pieces, and paintings of all mediums. Aside from her studio, which is located at 37 South Main Street in downtown Madisonville, you can see Barbie’s work in various places around town, such as McCoy & McCoy Laboratories and The Crowded House/Green Dragon Tavern.
I was introduced to Barbie Hunt at a young age by my grandmother, Beverly Dockrey, who belonged to a book club that Barbie was a part of. My grandmother, knowing my love of art and painting, took me into Barbie’s studio where we were introduced. It wasn’t long before I was completely inspired by this woman, her unbelievable talents, and her friendly disposition.
Since then, I have kept up with Barbie’s work and recently had the pleasure of sitting down with her in her studio to talk about her life, her great accomplishments thus far, and her hopes for the future.
Barbie grew up in Barlow, KY, a small town on the west side of Ballard County. Her father, Gayle Perry, was an agriculture teacher at the local high school; her mother, Adeline Perry, was a stay-at-home-mom, as were many others at that time.
“My parents were World War II people,” explains Barbie. “I think my mother was a frustrated artist. She was a very creative person. We always had projects going on around the house. Later in her life, she took some classes and she became a very good painter. I have a few of her paintings. My mother wanted to be creative, but the culture was to stay at home and take care of your kids. I have a brother and a sister, so there were three of us. I’m the middle child. We lived in a nice neighborhood and we had the run of the town. We rode our bikes and walked everywhere. It was a very, I guess, common childhood for people who grew up in small towns like that. There were lots of thriving small towns at that time.”
Barbie’s father was a talented musician from Dawson Springs who also put his creative talents on hold while he provided for his family and focused on family life.
“My dad played all kinds of instruments. He could play the fiddle, guitar, banjo, anything,” says Barbie. “He sort of set that aside, however, because he didn’t think that was very important. He played in a band and stuff like that during the war, but, afterwards, I would say that generation—when they got home—really settled into family life in a way that we don’t really see now. They put aside things that they shouldn’t have, like my mother who spoke two languages. We’re Americans and we don’t speak German. Of course, German wouldn’t have been a good language to speak at that time. My mother’s parents came over from Germany and my mother grew up in North Dakota. Her mother was from Denmark. She had a working knowledge of both German and Dutch, but none of that was something that carried down to us kids.”
Barbie says that her father’s musical career really started taking off as she grew older.
“I was around 10 or 12 when he really started getting into it because of new worship songs that were coming out. That’s when ‘How Great Thou Art’ was a new song,” laughs Barbie. “These songs started coming out with guitar, which was brand new to the church. Well, he got into that and started to learn all these songs. He just loved playing worship music on his guitar. In fact, before he died of cancer, he planned his own funeral and he invited all these friends of his that he’d been pickin’ with in different worship settings. We had like eight guitarists in this traditional Methodist church doing all this music that these people had never really heard. Are you familiar with the Great Banquet in Madisonville? Well, we helped to start it. We also helped to start the Walk to Emmaus in Murray, KY. My dad got involved in that and that’s when his musical talents really started showing up. After we were teenagers, he really started enjoying music and pickin’ with other people.”
Barbie’s father tried showing her how to play the guitar, but she claims her left-handed approach made it difficult for him to teach her. She got frustrated with it early on and, although she says she isn’t musically talented, she does have a dulcimer that a friend, Warren May, made for her that she wants to learn how to play.
Although Barbie’s father’s musical talents weren’t directly passed on to her, her mother’s creative edge influenced her greatly.
“I got to paint a lot as a kid,” says Barbie. “Other kids would come to my house because we had stuff and that wasn’t normal. The schools didn’t teach art at all. Even the high schools didn’t have art classes. So, I got to do stuff with my mom at home. We did lots of paint by numbers. I learned a lot about color doing paint by numbers, which was, I think, a really good base for learning.”
Barbie’s childhood was spent roaming around in woods near her house, playing in mud, and helping her mother in a big garden outside the home. She thought, growing up, that she’d end up becoming an elementary teacher or a nurse.
“I really thought those were the only two things you could be when you grew up,” laughs Barbie. “Then I went to college at Murray State University and found out that you could study art as a subject. I took one class and I was hooked. I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do with this, and I’m sure I won’t ever make any money at it, but I’ve got to do it.’ Then I took a pottery class and realized that you could really do something. I used to make mud pies as a kid and here I was making real, professional mud pies. So it kind of evolved really. I can’t say that I always wanted to be an artist and I really never even knew one. I mean, it wasn’t until I left home that my mother really started painting.”
Barbie left Murray State University with more than an education. It was there that she met her husband, Rush Hunt.
“We got married and then Rush went to law school in Louisville,” says Barbie. “I finished college there at Spaulding University. Spaulding had a great program at that time. You could take classes at any school in the city and get credit at Spaulding, so I took a pottery class under Tom Marsh. He was a great potter and teacher at that time at the University of Louisville. After that, we moved to Madisonville and Rush started practicing law here.”
Upon moving to Hopkins County, Barbie started dabbling in commercial art. She designed logos for businesses, painted, and raised Lee and Lara, their two children.
“I really wanted to go back to school,” says Barbie. “I thought that if I could really learn to make pots then that would be a legitimate way to make income as an artist. Plus, I really liked making pots. So, I went to the University of Evansville and they allowed me in the master’s program even though I’d only had one class in clay and really didn’t have a background in it. They kind of took me in on a tentative basis to see how I did.”
Barbie did very well in the program and came away from the University of Evansville with a master’s in ceramics.
“I did most of my master work in gas-fired kilns and developed a lot of glazes. All the glazes I have, I’ve made myself,” says Barbie. “When I finished that, I started working as a fulltime production potter. At that time, Martha Layne Collins was governor. During that era, there was a lot of support for the Kentucky craft market. Well, I got involved in the crafts market and I eventually had about 15 ‘mom and pop’ craft shops and gift shops in the state carrying my pottery. I really got into production works. I did that for about eight years and, at the same time, I started teaching part-time at the college.”
Barbie taught art history, studio classes, and developmental English classes at Madisonville Community College (MCC). In an attempt to score a fulltime teaching job at MCC, Barbie commuted to Murray State University until she acquired a master’s degree in English literature.
“I really enjoyed it. I had a couple of professors that were just wonderful,” says Barbie. “Plus, I love reading, which is another family pastime. We had lots of books and we were always reading, so I had already read a lot of the classics. I was particularly interested in the early part of the 20th Century in America and England—T.S. Elliot and that whole group of guys.”
Although Barbie obtained her master’s in English literature and was working towards her PHD, she was denied a fulltime position with the college. She says it was a definite turning point in her life. She wondered whether or not teaching was the path she was supposed to be on. She resigned from her part-time teaching job and turned to her art, deciding once again to try making art her fulltime job.
“The craft market changed a lot, quickly. It was hard, solitary work, and I really prefer to be with people. I was really disappointed when I didn’t get the fulltime teaching job, because I had been given a lot of ‘green lights’ on it. I thought I had been doing everything to get myself into the right position to land that job.”
Shortly after resigning from her teaching position, Barbie received a phone call from the president of MCC offering her a much different job on campus. She was offered the position of director over the newly built Glema Mahr Center for the Arts, which, at that time, was called the Madisonville Fine Arts Center.
“Rush had been on the Community Improvement Foundation for years and years,” says Barbie. “We had watched the building go up. It had been a hard building to build because it had been completed in phases as they had the money. I wasn’t involved in any of it. I saw it all go up as I was driving back and forth teaching all the time. The president wanted me to consider being the first director of this new thing. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no! I’m not the least bit interested in that,’” laughs Barbie. “It just looked like a lot of work. So we talked a lot about what his vision was and what his hopes were. It was the first performing arts center on a community college campus in Kentucky. It broke a lot of ground in many areas. I didn’t want to just say no if it was something I was supposed to do, but gosh, it didn’t seem like something I was supposed to do.”
Although she wasn’t very interested in taking on such a large project, she decided to ask if she could see the inside of the building and was quickly taken on a tour of the new facility.
“I’d never even seen the inside of it,” says Barbie. “They had a ribbon cutting ceremony at one point and then they closed it up. They couldn’t leave it open unless they had a person running it, so it was just locked up. It was finished, unfinished really, but finished as far as what they’d had the money for. So we walked through the building. It had seats, no curtains, no lighting, and a very small sound system. There wasn’t any furniture in the office. It had a great big coatroom and a little bitty box office. It had dressing rooms with nothing in them at all—just concrete block rooms. It had another concrete block room that was supposed to be a green room someday. It had a sound booth with absolutely nothing in it except a counter, and it had no money. It had no operating money whatsoever. They had set aside a small budgeted amount to run it and they had gotten approval from the community college system to hire a director and a secretary.”
Barbie was shocked at what it truly could be and what an outrageous amount of work would have to go into it. Yet, it was in that empty building that she had an epiphany that would change not only her life, but the lives of so many others in our community.
“I knew all these wonderful women who had dreamed and raised money for 20 years to build this thing,” explains Barbie. “I saw that it was either lemon or lemonade, and right now it was just this great big lemon. These women had dreamed a really big dream and some crazy person needed to dream just as big to pull it off. Then I realized that I was that crazy person.”
Even though Barbie knew nothing about performing arts leadership, she accepted the position and was immediately overwhelmed by the project she had taken on.
“It was an insane job. God was really with me,” says Barbie. “They already had 30 events booked in a building with no lights, no sound, no money, no desk, no computer, and no paperclips. I started meeting with all these guys, because there was a punch list and all this unfinished work. One of them told me about a man named Larry Teal who lived outside of Chicago. Larry had a performing arts center very similar to mine. He told me I needed to get to know him. Well, I called him up. I was desperate. I needed help.”
Barbie made fast friends with Larry Teal. He had taken on the job of running a performing arts center on a community college campus and had already plowed the same ground that Barbie had just set foot on.
“Every detail, from getting a very structured system to adjust to the arts, maintenance, cutting a check for an artist, intermission—stuff that had never ever been done before,” says Barbie. “Larry took me under his wing. I met him at a presenters booking conference. He got me in with William Morris and some of the big boys. I got to sit in on booking meetings with all the big presenters from Florida. They treated me like one of the guys, and here I was, a young mom that didn’t know what I was doing.”
With help from her newfound friends, Barbie was able to book incredible artists right off the bat and continued to do so season after season. Barbie was also able to develop a volunteer program quickly.
“We had over 100 people within a year helping to do everything from sound and lights to seating,” says Barbie. “Larry came and helped me to develop a ticketing program as well.”
For ten years, Barbie kept the ball rolling at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts. It was during that time she says she realized that, while she loves starting projects, she really doesn’t think she is good at maintaining them.
“I loved setting it all up,” says Barbie. “When I left, they were in good shape financially, had a large endowment, and I had gotten Glema’s name on the building, which was a dream of mine. And then, I realized it was just work. It had become work. It wasn’t a challenge anymore. I missed making art and a lot of things had changed in our lives. Our kids were in law school and they were grown. We had bought this building, Rush’s law office was in here, and we had been renting out the other side and decided not to rent it anymore. So, I started renovating it to be a little pottery shop. In 1999, I moved in and started making pots.”
Both of Barbie’s children, Lara and Lee, eventually became attorneys and moved off to fulfill their dreams. Neither was particularly into creating art, but Barbie says they both appreciate art and that they are by far her biggest fans.
“We had the most fun this past December. Our son and his wife, Kristi, finally got their dream home in Santé Fe, New Mexico. They’ve lived in Santé Fe for over ten years and they recently bought this new, huge, awesome house there. They’re both amazing people, but they have not one decorating gene between them,” laughs Barbie. “They have no interest in that, so they asked Lara and I to come to New Mexico to help them. They bought our plane tickets to come and spend the week decorating their house. We spent 15 hours the first day shopping and then we had all the furniture trucked in. We decorated the whole house in five days. It was amazing.”
During the home makeover, Barbie produced a large painting to place on a wall of the house. She was inspired early one morning while watching the sun rise up over Santé Fe. Barbie wanted to paint it, so she did.
“It got me thinking about working big," says Barbie. “I live in this little studio and it keeps me from thinking big, but in New Mexico, everything is so big. The sky is so big. So anyways, I came home and I was inspired. I could do it. I wanted to work big.”
Barbie has recently completed several large-scale pieces that are currently on display at The Crowded House restaurant in Madisonville. Up to this point, she has been creating art on a much smaller scale, but she has found her creative energies renewed after stepping outside of her usual comfort levels and working big.
Some of her most popular sellers, however, are her hand-painted silks, which she learned to do with a friend.
“We’d get together and play—make art together. She’s a wonderful painter,” says Barbie. “She painted silk for fun, so we’d get together and do silk. It became a great way for me to do color studies. The color you put on it is what stays. And mixing colors and seeing what happens when they run together and all of that helped. I really got to where I liked doing silk more than I liked doing watercolor. I still do watercolor every once in a while. I have some girlfriends and we used to go to Maine and paint landscapes. I love taking watercolors and doing that, but I don’t really see myself as a watercolor painter. It’s very structured. I’m not structured enough to be a good water colorist. You’ve got to like order and staying within the lines that you’ve created. I always want to bust out of my own lines.”
Painting silk became such a fun creative outlet for Barbie that she even developed her own method for working with silk.
“Most silk painters stretch their silks and it’s a wonderful way to work. It’s very structured,” says Barbie. “I lay out plastic on the floor or on a table. I use the real thin, almost drycleaner plastic that you get your clothes in, scrunch it, and then put the silk on that. The silk picks up all these things that are going on in the plastic underneath it. So you can control where it goes and what it does with water, dye, salt, and even sugar. Salt and sugar create texture in the dye. Do all that, lay it out flat, and let it sit. I am doing the same thing with acrylics—building up color, letting it run, stopping, seeing where it ends, going back, and layering more color on. Of course, the difference with silk would be that silk is transparent. The colors are all transparent, so you can’t totally get rid of something. With acrylics, you can just go ahead and start over if it’s a terrible painting,” laughs Barbie. “But with silk, it’s only a piece of silk. How bad could it be?”
Like most artists, Barbie is often inspired by a certain medium, running with it until she discovers something else that pulls her in a different direction. In turn, her artwork is usually made in phases.
Barbie says she is just now getting back into making pots, which she hasn’t done over the past seven years.
“My kiln died and I didn’t get a new one,” says Barbie. “Life got busy and Rush and I opened the [Main Street] Prayer Center [aka, Healing Rooms of Hopkins County] in the middle of all that. With painting, you can paint and then come back to it a week later and pick up where you left off. Pots don’t give you that freedom. I wasn’t sure I would go back to making clay, but a friend has loaned me her kiln. I’ll probably buy a new one now, but I have a kiln that I’m using and its firing fine. So, I got all my glazes back out. In the midst of all that, this wonderful young woman, Bree Jene Campbell, came to help me and she’s interested in becoming a potter. Bree is apprenticing. Having somebody here to help me do some of the work, Facebook it, and help with marketing has invigorated me to get excited about clay again. The same thing has happened with the large scale work. To have done that in New Mexico—I enjoyed the process and finished three paintings in a day. That kind of got me going, ‘Oh my gosh. I can do this. This is fun.’”
Another style of art that Barbie has an affinity for is collage. Collage is a technique where the artwork is made from an assemblage of different forms, which create a new piece altogether. She is very well known for her collage pieces.
“I really love doing collage,” says Barbie. “I think you have to have a respect for it to purchase it, so it’s been a harder sell. Regardless, I’ve sold a lot of work and I have people now who collect my work and really appreciate it. I’m very grateful for that. Collage is a slower process. I’ve been doing it for a long time now and it’s been a very good way to force me to deal with design, color, texture, and all the areas that you might kind of become lazy with. Working small with collage has been really good. So, I’m taking some of the things I’ve been doing small and kind of blowing them up. I’ve done some larger scale pieces with collected metal and wood. I’ve sold quite a few. I have quite a few right now that I’m working on. I just collect parts, get ideas, and put them together. They come together pretty quickly once I have all the parts. There is a show in Henderson [Kentucky] that I participate in every other year. It’s a recycled art exhibit. So that’s always a goal of mine, to get a bunch of new works done for the exhibit. It’s coming up this fall, so I’m gearing up and thinking through new ideas. I used to do a lot of shows. I don’t do that many anymore. It’s a lot of trouble to haul your stuff around. But the recycled art exhibit, I really enjoy doing that one.”
Barbie considers one of her greatest artistic accomplishments a collage series that she created for McCoy & McCoy Laboratories, Inc. She was commissioned to create the series by Barclay McCoy, the president and owner of the company.
“It was such a fun project,” gushes Barbie. “The project was to do these pieces of collage using leaves and construction pieces from their old site and their new site when they were building their new building. I developed all these works that were going to be given as gifts to all the different contract companies that participated in the construction of the building. Then, I went out with Barclay and we picked out the colors for the interior of the new building. We chose all these primary colors and I just happened to be working with all these primary colors in my collages as well. When they were all finished, Barclay liked them so much she decided to keep them. So now, they are on the wall inside of the building honoring all of these companies who worked together to create it. I love that McCoy & McCoy, a local company, supports local artists. I would love to see other local businesses really take local art seriously.”
For the most part, Barbie thinks that Madisonville and Hopkins County are moving in the right direction when it comes to appreciating the arts and surrounding ourselves with it.
“I’m always striving for excellence, so there is always more to improve upon, but I think we’re doing great,” says Barbie. “What Sugg Street Post is doing is awesome. We’re getting an art gallery open on Sugg Street and Amanda’s on Main is doing well. We had our fourth Gallery Hop this year, which is amazing. That’s starting to build up steam. At the first one I didn’t sell hardly anything. The second one I sold more. The third one I sold a lot. I think it’s because people started coming expecting to buy. They saw it as what it is intended to be. Not just to go look at art, but to come, shop, and to find work that catches your heart and that you want to live with. I was in a home recently and the couple that lived there was displaying one of my pieces. It is really exciting to see people starting to own and appreciate work by local artists. I think the desire that we have to see the Dulin and Woolworth buildings become important, active buildings in the downtown is significant. I love the idea of having upstairs apartments throughout the downtown area, because it puts people living in the downtown district. Those are the people that are going to be a part of whatever scene is going on. Those are the people who will help make our downtown area an active arts community. Hopefully, we can even put studios or businesses in those buildings that will support the arts or become part of the arts scene. It would be awesome to bring other artists to live and work here. I think that is the goal that we’re moving towards and I think that’s wonderful. I think we’re going there.”
Barbie not only has a passion for art, but she also has a passion for prayer. Barbie and her husband Rush are responsible for opening the Main Street Prayer Center which is located at 35 North Main Street in downtown Madisonville.
“Rush had been at a conference learning about Healing Rooms Ministries and it was clear that God wanted us to open a prayer center,” says Barbie. “So we started one in my shop where Rush’s office space used to be before he moved to a new location, and we continued to run it in this building for almost two years. We had two prayer rooms, an intersession room, and a reception area. However, this space just wasn’t really big enough for the ministry, which grew quickly. We had more and more people coming for prayer and they had to wait a long time. We needed a bigger building, and we had a lot of wonderful, prophetic people telling us that God had a bigger plan and for us. They told us to keep our eyes open. So we got the building that we have now at an auction and moved the prayer center down the street next to Ferrell’s. We moved in May of 2011.”
The prayer center does not offer Sunday services. Barbie tells me that the center isn’t a church either; it’s a ministry.
“Healing Rooms is an international association. There are over 2,500 in the world and, since we’ve opened ours, there are now ten in Kentucky. It’s just bringing Christians together to pray, primarily for the sick, but for people that have needs of all kinds. We are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have had some pretty amazing things happen. Lots of people have gotten healed. We have gotten reports recently that four different people we have been praying over are now cancer free. We see God heal people on a regular basis. It’s a cool ministry.”
Recently, the ministry created a kids healing team and have received a very good response.
“After we started our healing room, the kids wanted to pray for the sick because they had been in experiences where they had seen God heal people,” says Barbie. “So we put a structure together, tried it, and that next year the lead administrator of Healing Rooms came to Madisonville and held a conference with us. They got to see what our kids were doing and how it was progressing. Shortly after that they invited us to come and talk about it at a conference in Spokane [Washington]. So I put a manual together and that has put us in the frontline of being the go-to people if you want to have a kids’ team. Recently, we received a grant from the National Christian Foundation to help us build a website and to develop our material. So that’s something I’ve been involved in lately.”
Something else that has been consuming Barbie’s thoughts lately has been the Dulin and Woolworth buildings, which are located right next to her art studio. The buildings have been a hot topic of conversation around town as their ultimate fates are uncertain at this point in time.
“I’m really hoping that the building next door gets taken good care of, because it’s scary right now not knowing what the outcome will be,” says Barbie. “I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the big looming buildings next door. If they get torn down, I don’t know what will happen to my studio. At one point, we were asked if we would sell our building. I can’t say that I want to, but if that would improve the downtown, and if I could find a good alternate space, I would consider it. But, I’ve spent a lot of years moving in here and it’s hard to set up a studio. It’s a lot of work. I want to make art, I don’t want to move or renovate. I’m happy where I am.”
Barbie and I also talked about her favorite themes, colors, and symbols that frequently appear in her work.
“Over the last ten years, I have worked on this series on the cross. It’ll probably be a book at some point, because I’ve written devotions that go with each piece,” says Barbie. “I was honing in on two concepts with this series. There is obviously the cross that Jesus died on, which is the central image of the Christian faith, but then Jesus said, ‘Pick up your cross,’ so there’s more to it than the obvious image. So I did my own in-depth study of that, and so many of my collages have come out of that study. I always keep going back to that, because it’s still an ongoing observation in my life.”
“Leaves are another theme I’m drawn to,” says Barbie. “I honed in on the scripture in revelations that says that the leaves of the trees are going to heal nations and that leaves had some significance in the kingdom of God as a symbol of healing. So leaves became, for me, a symbol of healing and a Christian symbol. I have used leaves a lot. I believe that God is calling Christians to pray for the nations, not against them, and to believe that God wants to heal not just individuals, but nations.”
“Now I’ve got this new series, which is based on a concept that I’m really just starting to explore, and that is that the atmosphere that we see is only part of the atmosphere that we live in,” explains Barbie. “There is a spiritual atmosphere and it parallels, because God is a creator and he loves all of it. He loves the stars, he loves nature, and he loves diversity. He’s big. He created big. So I’m working with this series that’s big for me, but also big in concept, because I have to have something that I can see way out there. It keeps me motivated, like the cross. The more I know about it, the more I want to know and there’s more depth to it—vertical and horizontal. Our lives are supposed to be vertical and horizontal, not one way or another. But the new series is about the atmosphere. We’re under atmospheric pressure that we can’t see. Some days you just feel like there’s this cloud over you, like the Pink Panther. Well, there really is. It’s an atmospheric thing. There is pressure on you that you didn’t create. It isn’t you. You feel guilty or your feel bad about yourself or whatever—well, that wasn’t you. That’s something that happened that’s going on around you and we joke about the full moon, but there are atmospheric things that are natural and that are supernatural. So I’m pursuing that right now.”
“As far as favorite colors go, I don’t really have a favorite,” admits Barbie. “I go in stages of color. I love the river. I love fire. I love all the warm colors. I love all the cool colors. I had a black and white phase for a while. I am also fascinated by colors I can’t create. There are colors that I can’t make. We don’t have the spectrum for it. Ultimately, it’s really what God is doing in me and around me that motivates me. I wish I was more motivated by money, but I’m not. [laughs] I am motivated by these things that I see that God shows me—things that I can’t really articulate in words. I want to visually articulate them.”
Every piece that Barbie creates also has its own write up. Barbie likes to write about the piece, what inspired her to create it, and what it means to her.
“People are interested,” says Barbie. “They don’t need to know it and you can’t really say that art is something people need, but I believe your spirit needs art. I think people really enjoy knowing what was in the brain that caused you to do what you did, especially with work that is like mine. I mean, I can paint very realistically, but I just don’t want to. I value the camera. I studied photography a whole lot in college. I value the camera as a way to create art. So why would I want to do something it can do? I really value photo realistic painters and I have friends that are amazing at it. That just isn’t who I am. I don’t think like that. I just think in a different direction. So, my work has become more and more abstract, but it has meaning. It isn’t just throwing paint on a canvas. I want to communicate meaning in the process of what I’m doing. If there is anything happening in the 21st Century it’s that people are living out loud. Language is becoming a medium of communication in a new way, and so the written language is valuable to people. That’s how we are communicating. It’s not necessarily a good thing, because you can’t tell if I really like you by how I text you. You could tell by looking at me, but you have to add hugs, a smiley face, or ‘lol’ so that someone else takes it right. As an artist, I see artists as prophets on paper. We’re giving road signs of what’s going on around us and maybe reflecting culture as much as we’re directing it.”
Barbie is helping to direct the future of Madisonville in a variety of ways. She stays heavily involved with the city, although she admits that she wasn’t always a participating activist.
“As far as the city goes, I wasn’t involved,” says Barbie. “I attended a meeting where they were presenting the new city’s book. I was invited because I was on the Madisonville Historic District Commission. I was helping them start that, but I wasn’t involved in anything. I was trying to make art and helping with grandkids. It was another true epiphany in my life, honestly. I was sitting in that meeting and I was president of the Community Improvement Foundation [CIF], but CIF was not particularly involved in the community at that time. I saw that I needed to be actively involved in the community. There is so much potential for Hopkins County and this community. I decided that I wouldn’t be passive any longer. I became an activist. I do believe the Margaret Mead quote, ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.’ I believe that. I know that’s true and, as a Christian, I know that’s true as well. That’s how Christianity grew. So, I became actively involved. CIF became actively involved. I’m not involved with the CIF anymore, but I am involved in the Downtown Turnaround Project.”
In the midst of all of that, Barbie became like family to the late community leader and local visionary, Glema Mahr.
“I had a great loss in my life. I felt like I lost my mother again when she passed away. I buried my mother and then Glema died,” says Barbie. “I became trustee of her estate and spent a year going through all of her things, having an auction, and doing all of that. Now we’re on the verge of turning her land into a real park, and it is incredible land. There are 260 acres of gorgeous rolling hills. Her and Merle dreamed of it being a city park, and my job is to do everything I can to help carry out their vision within the constraints of an economy that has shifted and all it takes to make that happen.”
Barbie and Glema dreamed about what would happen with that land quite a bit. They shared ideas and concepts together and had a great shared vision for what it would someday become.
“At one point, I thought she was going to get involved in doing it and we discussed it,” says Barbie, “but she didn’t like looking back. She was a wonderful visionary person that just enjoyed life and living fully today—living in the present. That is why she was able to live so long. For Glema, to talk about the park and to start planning it was really more like looking at your own mortality a little too much. I, of course, understood that completely. We had a lot of things cooking and then we just sat them on the table and stopped. So, now we’re moving in that direction. The Mahr Park Planning Committee is very committed to carrying out her wishes. The city leadership right now is doing a good job of working towards carrying it out and doing it very methodically. We can’t open the park until you have an entrance and a parking lot. So, the park isn’t open. I know it looks like we’re doing nothing, but the biggest thing that will ever happen to that park will be the entrance and the parking lot. We can’t have a park without it. It’s still going to be awhile, but it will be an awesome park when we get it open.”
But what is in the cards for Barbie and what is she planning for the future? How does this highly successful local artist measure her success?
“How would you know if you were successful? What would be the ultimate success measure? To have a piece in a museum of modern art or something? I am on a mission. I want to see a community of artists and craftsman that I want to be a part of created—a community of artists and craftsman who work together to create good work and support ourselves financially. To me, success is really that people value what you do at any level. Ultimately, that would mean that they would value it so much that they would be willing to pay a fair price for it. To me, success is when people start to value what you do, and not just what you’re doing, but why. It happens when they value the heart behind it, because they got it—whatever it is, whether it’s a pot, painting, or silk. I sell a lot of silk, and that has been one of the things that has encouraged me the most. People will come in wanting to buy one for a sick friend, because we name them and we pray over them. They value the meaning. They value that it’s created out of worship and out of the environment that we have here. That is success. I am very successful,” laughs Barbie. “You know what I mean? I’m not looking at the check book. I have money in the check book. I’m not making tons of money, but, as an artist, I feel successful because I’m getting to do meaningful work and there are a lot of people finding it meaningful.”
Barbie would like to find more local galleries interested in carrying her work, but, right now, she says she is very focused on her city.
“I believe in my city and I’m not one of those people that think the big city is better. I chose to live in Madisonville. We had opportunities to leave, but we chose not to. We chose to stay here, not just because it’s Rush’s hometown, but because we believe this is a good town and we’re going to invest our lives here. Part of being hugely successful is that we all make money doing what we love doing, and I think we’re headed in the right direction. We are making our downtown a destination. You can come, eat, shop, be challenged, get a tattoo, and get prayer,” laughs Barbie. “You can do it all.”
How does Barbie tie the importance of art in her life and her love of community together? Quite simply, she wants to create work that reflects her relationship with God.
“When I started growing as an artist, I didn’t even know of any other Christian artists. I was not trained that way,” says Barbie. “I know that God really loves places and I believe he wants to see cities thrive and everybody in them thrive. I think, as a Christian, I want to see transformed cities where everybody is working good jobs, living in nice homes, and doing valuable work while loving their families. I believe that everything you do to improve a city moves you toward that, and I believe the arts help, because I think God is a creative God. When we value creativity, we’re valuing him in us. It is all really out of my core belief that God said, ‘Stay in Madisonville. I’m going to use you here.’ That means every part of everything. Be involved in everything that you can make a difference in. I love starting stuff. I love working with people and seeing creative people working together. If committed people start believing in their city and start caring about their corner, then we will have a city that people will come to see. If we believe in our city and we believe that this is a good place to live—we have great schools, good jobs, and a wonderful environment—if we start inviting people to come and be a part of something wonderful, they will. That’s how people get to different cities after all.”
“Community matters. People matter. Rush and I want to know people. I want to know my neighbors and I want to know people. I want to care about people. That’s really why we started our ministry. We just want to make a place for that and I think small towns are the perfect set-up. I think that people are looking for that in a high-tech world, and we have it. We have a great city and it’s getting better.”
For more information about Barbie Hunt and her artwork visit her website at http://www.barbiehunt.com/.
For more information about Main Street Prayer Center visit their website at http://www.mainstreetprayer.org/.
You can also find Barbie Hunt Studios on Facebook.
Sugg Street Post
Written by Jessica Dockrey
Photos by Jessi Smith and Jeff Harp