Gallery Director, Alyss Vernon recently visited Barbara Fedeler’s house in rural Iowa that was actually ordered out of a Sears catalogue! This home, with a few modifications over the years, is where Barbara and her husband live, manage the land, and make art. Alyss describes her visit (which included a delicious homemade lunch with veggies from the garden) and asks Barbara some questions about her work.
Barbara Fedeler is one of the immensely talented artists we have represented for more than 23 years. When you see her work, you’ll know why the gallery’s relationship with Barbara is an enduring one. Once you have the pleasure of taking in the ethereal drawings she makes of the Northeastern Iowa landscape, you will want to go to the places Barbara renders in soft willow charcoal. While Iowa landscapes are what Barbara is known for, during her sabbatical from Wartburg College in 2021, she turned her attention to another subject of interest. In a word– gathering.
Walking up the stairs from the kitchen into Barbara’s studio, you see her worktable glowing from the skylight above. The adjacent doors open to a balcony overlooking the front yard and acres of prairie beyond that. The light-filled studio houses the books, ephemera, natural objects, and art supplies Barbara has gathered over the years, all waiting to be chosen for her next composition. The subject on the table lately– birds. Specifically, birds from an old textbook. The various bird species are carefully examined and either collaged or painted onto small portions of vintage wallpaper.
Alyss Vernon: What brought on the seemingly significant shift from panoramic charcoal landscapes to small-scale mixed media work depicting various birds? Did you have this new work cooking in the back of your mind for a while?
Exploring new things during a sabbatical was freeing and engaging. I think that playing with materials and ephemera that resurfaced during the move allowed me to find ways to be contemplative and explorative while being intuitive with my hands, heart, and head.
I love the phrase, “new work cooking”! With the collection of paper goods I have, there is little doubt that ideas were seeded long ago. Most of the materials were collected from older family lives and places. The collage materials took on a life of their own. My garden, the woods, and the prairie were resources and fodder as I worked and walked.
AV: What is the name and year of the textbook your bird imagery is sourced from?
BF: The book used for bird images in the collages is Birds of the World: A Survey of the twenty-seven orders and one hundred and fifty-five families, by Oliver L. Austin, JR and illustrated by Arthur Singer, copyright 1961 by Golden Press, Inc.
AV: Working on your home and land is something you enjoy, but surely it takes up a fair amount of energy. How do you see that reflected in what you make in the studio?
BF: I live and work the land that I love. Growing trees and vegetables and keeping bees and prairie are soul-satisfying pursuits. The time and care it takes to build a large landscape drawing using layers of willow or a small multilayered collage is nurturing an entity into being. Unlike the landscapes, created with bits of ash and over long periods of sustained attention, the small collages offer opportunity to explore immediate challenges. The work is equally layered and additive/subtractive, but the yield is so different. Disparate pieces of ephemera hint at content while the landscapes evoke pastoral drama.
The stewardship of the land and creation of art are both internal explorations and external satisfactions.
AV: What year was your house ordered/built?
BF: The house was built between 1933-1938. The Small Houses of the Twenties, The Sears, Roebuck 1926 House Catalog, shows “The Walton” for $2,471.00!
AV: Who’s art do you like to look at? What are your creative influences?
BF: I’ve always enjoyed looking at works on paper! Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, Wayne Thiebaud, Richard Diebenkorn, David Hockney, Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Edouard Vuillard, James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Giovanni Battista Piranesi are frequent references. Visiting museums and travelling to see exhibitions are high on my to-do lists.
Scientific illustrations seen in An Illustrated Catalog of American Fruits and Nuts, The US Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection were pivotal in my move toward small scale, intimate views.
The world around me and seen through my eyes is a constant influence. The seasonal changes of the Iowa landscape impact my views and ideas. Early morning and just-before-dark light patterns recall our human awakenings and rest.
A big thank you to Barbara and her husband, Rick for sharing a slice of their bucolic Saturday with me!
Be sure to visit the gallery before December 2nd to see Barbara's new work in our current exhibition, Wing & Bloom.