Dave Barnes was as surprised as most people when he stepped into Barton Community College’s Shafer Gallery for the first time and saw a gallery of such beauty, spaciousness and versatility in the midst of its rural central Kansas setting.
"The gallery is really a remarkable institution," Barnes said, four weeks later as he talked about his plans as the new Shafer Gallery director. "It’s a beautiful edifice, but even beyond that, the collections we have here at Barton. It never ceases to amaze me. I pull out a drawer or a screen and there’s more art. I’m just overwhelmed by the real treasure we have in the Shafer Gallery. Anyone who hasn’t been here is really missing out."
As he and his wife, Krystall, and daughter, Kestrel, an eighth grader, settle into their home in a new community, Barnes talks about the gallery’s close ties to the community and his ideas for bringing the two even closer through the common goals of art and education.
"The Shafer Gallery has this wonderful tradition of being a community institution, not just a college institution," he said. "I’m hoping we will continue this process of integrating the gallery into the fabric of community life."
At the same time, Barnes ultimately defines himself as an educator. He taught art at Southeastern Oklahoma State University for four years before coming to Barton. Before that, he spent nine years as a teacher and art gallery coordinator at Penn State University-Scranton and eight years teaching art at Montana State University-Billings.
"As an educator, I soon began to realize that education is more than just what happens in a classroom," he said. "I’ve always felt a community art gallery was a wonderful place to give people experiences that are educational in the sense of broadening who they are as human beings. I’m very excited about exploring this idea to see if we can unite the Shafer Gallery with other art organizations and make it a part of a matrix or web of the humanities, entertainment and education."
One of his first experiences as gallery director was to meet Pat Rapp, daughter of Gus and Eva Shafer for whom the gallery is named. "I’ve seen her name on many plaques on the bronzes in the gallery," he said. "It was special to be able to meet her in person and it put a human face on the work of Gus Shafer."
As he saw her father’s bronzes in the setting of her home, he could see them not just as objects, but as part of somebody’s life, he said. "It’s dad’s or grandpa’s stuff and it’s special for that reason. We value it with a different set of criteria."
As he learned about the gallery’s Gus Shafer collection, Barnes set some of his own goals in motion as he planned the new exhibit, "New Quilts From an Old Favorite: Sunflower" featuring the prize-winning quilts from the National Quilt Museum competition headquartered in Paducah, Ky.
To incorporate community involvement in the opening reception for the exhibit, he asked a group from the local Threadbenders Quilt Guild to come into the gallery and work on a quilt at the same time the people were looking at the quilts in the exhibit. "They could see quilt making in action while they were looking at the finished product," he said.
Soon, the gallery will be hosting area school children as they flock in to decorate their holiday trees, one of the gallery’s well-established traditions tied to the community. "I’m very excited about the holiday exhibits," Barnes said. "I’ve heard lots of good tales about people’s experiences during the Holiday Open House and I’m hoping to make it very special this year."
A remarkable gallery needs a remarkable director, and by all indications the Shafer Gallery has found one in Dave Barnes. His experiences in art are diverse and his talents are multifaceted. While at Penn State, he worked in the integrative arts department to pull all of the arts together into an atmosphere of collaboration. "You didn’t just think in terms of art, or in terms of music, but in terms of art and music, or art and music and drama combined," he said.
Barnes earned a Master of Arts degree in history from Missouri State University in Springfield followed by a Master of Fine Arts degree in visual arts and criticism from the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts/Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in art/history from Evangel University in Springfield. In addition, he studied Sacred Arts of India at the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute at Columbia University in New York City.
While at Montana State University, Barnes was interested in the Native American culture and became a close friend of a Crow Indian family. He lived for a while on the Crow reservation and became involved in all aspects of their lives. "One thing I like to say, I never learned to dance with wolves, but I did learn the proper way to sweat with crows," he quipped, explaining that the Crow sweat lodge was really the center of the community and community activities.
Barnes also is interested in non-Western cultures and has been studying the notion of time. For the last couple of years, he has been doing research and publishing articles about how artists and writers create the illusion of the passage of time. "The writers create narratives that re-invent or skew our notion of time," he explained. Barnes also has written articles about graphic novels, which take "the art of the traditional comic book and produce the literary depth and sophistication of real literature."
"I’ve always been very much the kind of person who wants to break down artificial bearers, work outside of boxes," said Barnes, who also is a musician and for a long time played in a Celtic Ceili band.
He set out to learn as many instruments as he could and those instruments included guitar, mandolin, hurdy gurdy, whistles and others. In the last couple of years, he purchased a Celtic harp and has been learning to play it.
He tells the story of how his band became the visiting guest artists for the Shanghai National Orchestra in Shanghai, China, in 1988. "Here were three guys from Missouri in China playing Irish, Welsh and Breton folk music so it was really an international experience, an amazing, neat experience."
The Shanghai National Orchestra was a traditional orchestra playing traditional Chinese instruments, he pointed out, "but recognizing that folk music is very similar around the world, the tunes we were playing, when they were played on Chinese instruments, sounded just like Chinese folk songs."
In China, he also had the experience of talking to interested groups of students about democracy and what it’s like to live in America. "That was very moving to me," he said. "I had taken my citizenship for granted until that experience."
Barnes hopes to bring all of these experiences in art and education to the gallery director’s position "as a place where all this comes together."
"I hope all of these different kinds of experiences can be focused and molded into something that will help the community realize the importance and excitement of the arts," he said.