Islander to be featured at this weekend’s Newport Arts Festival
The event is produced by and benefi ts the Middletown-based nonprofit Looking Upwards. The mission of the organization is to support adults with disabilities and children with diverse needs and to help them to lead fulfilling lives.
The primary attraction of the festival is an art marketplace featuring the works of over 50 artists working in 11 different mediums. One of the artists participating in this year’s Newport Arts Festival is Jamestown artist Jillian Barber.
Barber is an award-winning artist whose work can be found in homes, theaters, museums and schools. She has a graduate degree in ceramics from the Rhode Island School of Design. Her work includes ceramic sculpture, mask making, costume design, cast portraits, fountains and photography.
In 2006, the Newport Art Museum hosted a retrospective of her work that was called “Vintage Jillian.”
Barber was the artist-in-residence for the Jamestown Elementary School’s tile mural project, which was created through a grant from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. She has also served as the vice president of the board for the Conanicut Island Art Association. Barber is represented by the Charlestown Gallery. Her work is also available for sale at Jamestown Designs, Sun Up Gallery in Westerly, and Arnold Art Store and Scrimshanders, both in Newport.
This will be the third year that Barber has participated in the Newport Arts Festival. “It’s five minutes away,” Barber said. “There’s a big tent, you’re sheltered [and] you’re inside. You get lots of people to come, hopefully. And it’s small. There are only about 65 artists. It’s right on the water. Visually it’s a wonderful place to be. It’s an easy show to do.”
It has proven to be a successful show for Barber in terms of sales, but it didn’t start out that way. “The first year on the Saturday there was a monsoon and half of the tent filled with water,” she said. “I’m hoping for the area that it becomes a viable show because I think that the area needs a really good art [and] high-end crafts show. There are so many little ones everywhere. This one is more serious.”
Barber will bring a variety of work to the Newport show. “I’m bringing the masks I’ve done for the spring and summer,” she said. “I’m bringing the [ceramic] sea creatures, and a bigger turtle than I’ve show before. A good sampling of everything that I do, but not photographs because I wasn’t juried in for photography.”
In addition to her ceramic work, Barber spent 33 years designing costumes for the annual Chorus of Westerly’s celebration of Twelfth Night, which is held at the beginning of January each year. “It’s a different play every year having to do with the fight of good against evil, and it usually has medieval overtones,” she said. “I made things that I probably wouldn’t have made in a thousand years if I hadn’t been asked to make them.”
Barber’s work as a professional photographer is relatively recent compared to her other artistic endeavors, but her interest in photography goes back to her childhood. She said that she has been taking photographs her entire life, but has only been showing them for about 10 years.
“As a kid my parents were always taking photographs of me to send to England because my mother was English,” she said. “We’d get photographs back. I noticed that of all the things that I keep or collect, photographs are the most important.”
Barber said that she bought a Minolta camera in the 1970s to photograph her other work and to keep a record of it. “Then I started traveling and every time I went to England I would drag my camera along,” she said. “The camera becomes a companion, another set of eyes. I’d come home and I would have beautiful pictures. I think that finally I had taken a roll of pictures that was so beautiful that I decided to put one in a show, and it won first prize. For me it’s a whole different expression of who I am and a different part of my psyche.”
She continued, “I see a lot of beauty in people, and that’s what I try to capture. Not the everyday beauty so much. I look for that perfect visual expression.”
Barber still uses that old Minolta film camera for her black and white work, although she has a digital Nikon for color photography.
Barber’s work will also be shown at upcoming shows at the Halloweenthemed “Boo!” show at the Bristol Art Gallery, the “Black & White” show at the Portsmouth Art Gallery, and the members show at the South County Art Association.
The Newport Arts Festival offers two days of art, music, food and family fun on the waterfront. In addition to the festival’s art marketplace, other attractions include a music stage featuring regional folk, blues, bluegrass, rock, funk and jazz performers. There will also be entertainment for children and a cafe serving food on-site.
The festival will be open on Saturday, Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Sept. 25, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
General admission is $8 and children under 12 get in free. The Newport Yachting Center is located at 4 Commercial Wharf in Newport. For more information, visit NewportArts Festival.com.