“All of my paintings reflect upon my country life. Paintings of rural landscapes and different animals, all of which are a link to my past. I was born in 1939 on a 150 acre farm in East Zorra, Ontario, where my father farmed with horses. My mom and dad had no boys, so I became my dad’s helper. As a result of these memories my paintings frequently reflect scenes of haying, threshing, fetching cows, and scenes of country villages.
I never took lessons in painting. I just wanted to put my feelings on canvas. I don’t like painting straight lines, I prefer curves and waves. I do all my painting at home in the country, and I use many different colours. I started painting in 1977 as I realized I had no pictures of my dad’s farm. To keep memories of that farm alive my first picture was painted, and it was entered into the Oxford County Juried Exhibition and won an award of merit. It still have that painting. I did not take my painting seriously until 1989 when an accident prevented me from working full time. I hope that everyone who views my paintings receives as much pleasure as I receive painting them.”
As mentioned in my previous blog about the Canadian Contemporary Folk Art Festival, it was here in 1994 that we first encountered the work of Barbara Clark Fleming. Shortly after we contacted her and made our first trip to her home near Woodstock, Ontario.
The first thing we noticed when we arrived at her neat little hobby farm was the pony in a paddock at the rear. Barbara met us at the door and although obviously very shy was none the less welcoming and told us about her pet horse and her love for all animals. We then went in to the house to discover a turtle crawling across the kitchen floor, a couple of cats lounging about, and a little white bunny who would hide behind the furniture and hop by occasionally. We were introduced to her husband Stan, who was stretched out in a recliner chair in the living room. A very nice man who was by this point very ill and requiring her full time care. She took us into a little room beside which was her studio. Here she painted on a flat school desk over which hung a large combination lamp/ magnifying glass. Barbara explained that she is very near sighted and required this set up for the details. She said that the painting was a great escape for her, as she was required to be at home, indoors most of the time. She essentially remembers happy scenes from her childhood and paints them spontaneously. Although she is not conscious of it, this method was and is the essence of what gives her work it’s spontaneous energy, strength and beauty.. She paints because she loves to paint with no concern for conventional form or perspective. She is fearless and direct and simply works until she is happy with the painting. We love this about her work. We bought about twelve paintings that day and thus began a long relationship with Barbara and her art.
She looked after Stan at home until his death a couple of years later, after which she got out and traveled around the nearby countryside, observing and documenting those elements of rural life that she still related to her upbringing. Thus she began to paint Mennonite farms, and old feed mills that reminded her of her youth.
We believe that the first rule of dealing with folk artists is “Do not influence”. It is always tempting to “suggest” painting more paintings in a style which you find to be most commercial, but ultimately it is this type of influence which kills the natural wonder and instincts which nurtures an artist’s development. If an artist starts to paint to please you, it is not long before they grow bored and resentful.
In 1995 we took fourteen of Barbara’s paintings to the summer Muskoka Antique Show and sold all fourteen on the opening night. I seriously considered driving home that night to fetch more, but it was eight hours round trip so didn’t. Barbara’s paintings sold well at every show including Muskoka the following year, and continued to be very popular for about another five years before interest waned. Interest and sales have gone up and down since, but nothing like when we first introduced them to the Canadian market at that time. She continues to paint excellent paintings.