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 Barbara Stonecipher  (1921 - 2011)

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Lived/Active: California/New York      Known for: impressionist landscape, abstract painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Barbara Stonecipher (1921-2011)

She studied art at the Indianapolis School of Art and at Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan).  In the late fifties, living in Larkspur, California, she became a member of the San Francisco Artists Co-op and Marin Society of Artists.  For ten years, she painted full-time, selling her work in group and solo shows.  She moved to New York in 1969.  Over the next three decades, she created several gardens, volunteered in others and served as a garden consultant.

I met Barbara Stonecipher in the early 1980s when I signed up for a plot at the West Side Community Garden in New York City.  I was eager to learn, and Barbara, a master gardener, encouraged me.  I learned a lot about gardening from watching her work and eventually learned about her life and her artistic work.

Born in 1921, she was taught to read at age three and began piano lessons when she was four.  As a child, she drew pictures and wrote stories, and received excellent instruction in art and music in public school.  After graduating from high school, Barbara was determined to pursue her passion for art and worked in a piston ring factory until she could afford to attend the Indianapolis School of Art.  After a year of studying there, her money unfortunately ran out and she had to leave.

One day, Barbara saw a blurb in the newspaper about the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) being formed.  She enlisted in the army in 1942 in Des Moines, eventually rising to first lieutenant. She honorably retired in 1945.

Thanks to the GI Bill, Barbara was able to continue her study of art at Cranbrook Academy of Art and further developed her talent in music at the Detroit School of Music, majoring in voice with a minor in piano.  While there, she co-founded the Detroit Opera Society.

Barbara then transferred to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she majored in music literature, aesthetics and criticism, and minored in philosophy.  In addition, she studied flute, violin and piano and co-founded Arts Theatre in the Round, marrying the theatre's director (they divorced two years later).

Europe was Barbara's next destination.  She went at the invitation of friends who were living in Germany.  Soon after she arrived, she found work as an arts and crafts technical supervisor for the U.S government, overseeing craft shops and photo labs on army bases throughout northern Germany and then in France, where she lived in Orléans, La Rochelle and Châtillon-sur-mer.

She continued working on her art during her 4-1/2 years in Europe, creating many landscape and city scenes.  Deciding to return to the U.S. to live, Barbara was booked to travel from France on the Andrea Doria’s final voyage, which ended when it sank off Nantucket.  She avoided that disaster only because she had postponed her departure date.

She made her home in California, first living in San Francisco and then buying a house in Marin County (Larkspur) that featured a large gone-to-blackberries garden.  She freelanced as manuscript editor, but indulged her real love, painting.

During a ten-year period, she painted full time. "I hadn’t made a decision to do this," she said. "It just happened."  She started creating impressionistic works and soon moved into abstract painting.  As a member of San Francisco Artists Co-op and Marin Society of Artists, she had several solo and group shows, and sold many paintings.

During her years in California, she studied Zen Buddhism with Alan Watts, drawing with Sonia Getchtoff at California Institute of Art, and also ceramics, silversmithing and classical guitar.

In 1969, Barbara visited New York City and never left.  Friends packed her things and drove them across the country.  She had a show of her abstract paintings on the East Side and settled into an apartment near the American Museum of Natural History.  She did freelance manuscript editing and gardening became her passion. "Gardening and painting are very much alike," she explained. "Each includes the creative use of color, shapes, textures and materials. Stone and water, plants and trees -- you can paint them or design a garden."

Barbara earned a certificate in gardening from the New York Botanic Garden and became a Cornell Master Gardener.  Volunteering with the Central Park Task Force, she worked in the Shakespeare and Conservatory gardens, among others.  She created rockeries at the West Side Community Garden (West 89th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues) and the Lotus Roof Garden (West 96th Street, off Broadway).

She also was a garden consultant to 1088 Park Avenue’s courtyard garden for 12 years and to a courtyard and roof garden on East 94th Street, and created a street garden at 8 East 83rd Street.

Barbara truly has been an inspiration to me.  Her sense of adventure, love of learning and demonstrated ability to follow her muse and be a productive, successful artist -- on paper and canvas and in the garden -- make her an awesome role model.  Her art remains vibrant and her considerable achievements point to a life well-lived.

Michele Forsten, New York City, April 2010

Added note:
Barbara Stonecipher died on October 30, 2011.

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