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Artist shares lifetime of experiences in exhibit
by Jebb Johnston
Oct 27, 2017 | 186 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A native of London and now a Corinth resident, James R. Barker shows his painting of assembled American Indian chiefs at the Corinth Artist Guild Gallery, which is now exhibiting his paintings and furniture. / Staff photo by Jebb Johnston
A native of London and now a Corinth resident, James R. Barker shows his painting of assembled American Indian chiefs at the Corinth Artist Guild Gallery, which is now exhibiting his paintings and furniture. / Staff photo by Jebb Johnston
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With a résumé including service in the British Army’s Royal Engineers, treks through all of Europe and credit for stonework on prominent buildings, James Richard Barker is not the typical Corinthian.

In his spryer days, the 91-year-old Englishman also enjoyed dancing the cha-cha, even giving lessons with his wife.

His creative talents are on display through Nov. 11 at the Corinth Artist Guild Gallery, which will host an opening reception for the exhibit with Barker on Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. Paintings and handcrafted furniture are featured.

Like many painters who exhibit work at the gallery, he had an extended break from spending time at the easel, but not for some of the usual reasons.

“London was threatened with bombing,” he said. “We were evacuated, and that sort of ended my art career right there.”

Born in London in 1926, Barker recalled his first experience with art came while attending a boys’ club in south London. An instructor there helped get him into the prestigious Green School of Art at age 11.

Before the evacuation from London, he took a test that led to a technical school scholarship. He trained as a master carpenter and began working for a company that made antique furniture reproductions in Queen Anne and other styles. That experience led to the furniture pieces displayed at the gallery.

At 17, he joined the British Army, serving in the 612 Field Squadron of the Royal Engineers from 1944 to 1952.

“During the war, I was busy fighting the Germans, so I didn’t have the opportunity to do any artwork,” said Barker. “After the war, I was busy trying to make a living.”

That brought him to Canada.

“I didn’t like the cold in Canada,” he said. “The work didn’t ease up in the winter.”

They headed south to the U.S. In Oregon, working for Eugene Sand & Gravel, he did stonework on buildings including the justice center built in Portland, Oregon, in 1983.

Barker also had a brush with controversy as the designer of a 51-foot-tall cross that stood on a butte in Eugene, Oregon. It became an object of dispute because it was on city property and was moved in 1997 to Eugene Bible College.

Barker retired just before turning 70. He is doing well despite suffering a stroke about two years ago. Since last year, he has lived in Corinth with his son, Glenn, and daughter-in-law, Pat.

He still enjoys taking the paintbrush in hand.

With scenes from far-flung locales such as Mexico, Canada and Belgium, his oil paintings reflect the international flavor of his life experiences. Several, influenced by his son’s interest in American history, depict American Indian culture. There are also self-portraits and a portrait of his wife of 68 years, Mibs, who died in June.

A piece of sculpture is also part of the exhibit.

Artist Guild President Sonny Boatman is excited about sharing the variety of the art and Barker’s experiences.

“I didn’t know until today that they also taught dancing,” he said. “It’s a life spent in artistic pursuits.”

Regular gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday at 609 North Fillmore.
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