Capturing a way of life
This story was featured in the July 2013 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Order the Southwest Art July 2013 print issue, or get the Southwest Art July 2013 digital download now…Or better yet, just subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss a story!
Farms, weather-worn barns, and the back roads of Iowa—Barbara McGee captures a rapidly vanishing way of life in the Midwest. “My paintings are images of my life, the things I grew up with and I have loved,” McGee says. “Painting gives me an avenue to explore the romance and emotion that surround me.”
McGee began drawing horses at an early age and recalls eagerly awaiting the arrival of her father’s quarter-horse journals in the family’s mailbox. After high-school graduation, she continued following her interest in drawing and eventually earned a degree in fine art from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, IA. These days she makes her home nearby in the small town of Peterson—population 350—nestled in the heart of the Little Sioux River Valley.
For many years McGee concentrated on horses as subject matter. Originally she was of the mind that if she wanted to paint a landscape, she had to live in a place like Colorado where she could paint scenery such as the dramatic Rocky Mountains. But over the years she came to appreciate the quieter beauty of the prairie and cornfields of her home state. In 2000 McGee opened a gallery in Peterson to showcase the talents of northwest Iowa’s sculptors and painters, with the hopes of turning her slice of the world into a destination for art lovers.
McGee says regardless of the subject matter or media, her style and approach to her paintings remain the same. She is often inspired by what she calls “shine or shininess.” This may include the shine of a horse’s coat, the polished fender of an old car, the luster on leather, or even the reflections of light on water. “The surface quality of the object I am painting becomes very important to me. I push myself to explore new textures and lighting to keep the process of painting interesting and fun,” she says. “This keeps me motivated, and my work stays fresher. Whatever the image, my work has several elements that appeal in all of them, including surface quality, high contrast, and soft edges.” —Bonnie Gangelhoff
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