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Artist Profile Series: Barbara Earl Thomas

Megan Gallagher

Communications Intern

Barbara Earl Thomas, Bodies in the Matrix-- Cut Tyvek, 14 x 9 x9 feet, 2017

Barbara Earl Thomas is a Seattle-based writer, artist, and arts administrator with over 30 years of experience showing her work. She grew up in Seattle and studied art at the University of Washington, where she was mentored by Jacob Lawrence and Michael Spafford. Cited as a role model by Artist Trust workshop instructors Robin Held and Leilani Lewis, Barbara previously served as the director of the Northwest African American Museum, where she was instrumental in getting the organization off the ground.

Barbara creates visual art in a range of media including egg tempera, linocuts, and large-scale Tyvek cutouts, and her written works were published in What to Read in the Rain, Journal for Social Justice, and more. Asked about her impressive range of visual media, she says, “I’ve never thought that I’m a painter or a whatever. I just like to tell stories, I like to communicate, and I always try to figure out what kind of vehicle the story or the image needs. […] I’ve never thought, ‘Oh, I’m a painter so I shouldn’t be writing or printing.’” As we talked in her Columbia City studio, Barbara noted that, in terms of her career, “I feel like I just make stuff. I don’t feel like Rembrandt, I don’t feel like so many of the people I studied in school that were artists.”

In 2016, Barbara received the Twining Humber Award in recognition of her long-standing dedication to the arts. “For me, it’s about the recognition of my peers as having achieved a certain level of expertise and that I was seen within that context,” says Barbara. Funding from the award helped her pay the team that helps her create large-scale Tyvek cutouts, something she emphasizes she would have done with or without support, but receiving the award helped put her in a position to be more comfortable doing so.

Barbara is currently working on a series called Natural and Unnatural Disasters, as well as several large-scale cutouts. Some of these projects will be featured in exhibitions later this year, though Barbara hesitates to say exactly where, explaining that, “I never name a thing until I have it.”

Barbara’s best advice for aspiring artists is to keep going. “Don’t stop because the moment is not perfect, your efforts are cumulative. It all adds up,” she says, “don’t lament only having time to make three things – because at the end of the week you’ve got three real things to show for your efforts, at the end of the month you’ve got twelve images or objects and so on. […] And there’s never a perfect time to do a thing. I used to [go to my studio] at night, 5 o’clock after work and I’d have projects set up to meet whatever was my energy level on a given day. Many people in this world have had to do more than one thing well. I’m in that tradition—William Carlos Williams and Pablo Neruda both had day jobs.”

To learn more about Barbara and her work, check out her website.

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Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She currently serves as Artist Trust’s Communications Intern.