|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|The following text is from the Houston Chronicle by Kim Hughes, October 30, 2007.|
Montrose-based sculptor Gertrude Barnstone creates glass and steel sculptures in the garage at the home she has lived in for more than 30 years.
San Jacinto High School alumnus, Rice University graduate and sculptor Gertrude Barnstone has been blazing trails for more than 40 years.
She helped lead the way in the desegregation of Houston schools in the 1960s and a decade later served as president and treasurer of the Texas ACLU Foundation board.
She also co-founded the now defunct Houstonians for Global Warming Action and the Artist Rescue Mission.
"I had never done anything political before, but I felt at home with (the political arena) once I got started," said Barnstone, 82.
She also felt at home as the only woman in a welding class.
"I wanted to take welding for art, because I had done some large pieces with metal but I had to have them fabricated," she said. "I liked doing those big things, but I sure didn't like not being able to do it myself. People all over the world can weld. Why couldn't I?"
No reason on Earth why she couldn't or shouldn't, she said. So she did — and she's still welding.
She creates glass and steel sculptures in the garage at the house in which she's been living for more than 30 years. The artwork ranges from functional, such as tables, to the more abstract, such as a piece at Memorial High School in memory of a young geography teacher who died of uterine cancer.
Barnstone, a mother of three (Dora Barber of Tampa, Fla., Lily Wells of Montrose, George Barnstone of Montrose) and grandmother of five, began taking art classes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston when she was 7 years old.
"I remember my mom (Gisella Levy) and I sitting in the office of the director, and I remember him asking me to draw something," Barnstone said. "For some reason, I recall he asked me to draw a circle. It doesn't make sense, but that's what I recall. So I drew a circle. And then I was in adult classes."
Barnstone took life-drawing classes and painting, but when she was age 11, she discovered the world of sculpture.
"At some point I realized I wanted to do something that goes all the way around, something I can walk behind, something that makes a shadow," Barnstone said. "Once I began that, I really felt quite comfortable."
Barnstone figured she should go to college before trying to make a go of it in the world of art. She graduated from Rice University in 1945 with a degree in English.
Eventually, Barnstone found herself as a divorced mother of three young children, so she went to work at a factory making plexiglass skylights.
She continued to dabble in art, eventually finding her way from working with wood to steel; and on to the welding class at what used to be San Jacinto High School, her alma mater at 1300 Holman but what is now a Houston Community College campus and where she returned for welding.
Working at the factory instilled a desire to incorporate glass into her artwork, but instead of plexiglass, Barnstone turned to inch-thick, colored glass.
"I love outdoor sculpture, and the fact it changes all the time as the sun moves," Barnstone said. "What you're looking at changes, the color changes, the shadows change. And I love that."
Her work caught the eye of Oliver and Nancy Goldesberry, owners of Goldesberry Gallery, 2625 Colquitt .
Oliver said they have been representing Barnstone for at least 10 years.
"We have a little bit of her work on display, but it sells as fast as she makes it," Oliver said. "She is an amazing woman."
In the 1960s, Barnstone served on the Houston Independent School District board at a time she said they were resistant to desegregating schools.
She said the board was refusing federal funding because to get it, they would have to desegregate. She didn't like that, she said, and she wanted to change it. So she ran for the board and to her surprise, she was voted in.
In the 1970s, Barnstone was on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, an organization dedicated to defending and preserving rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in the country (www.aclu.org).
"My father (Arthur Levy) was a member of the national ACLU. He was always a man of principle and justice," said Barnstone, who also served as president of the Texas Chapter of Women's Equity Action League. "It's important to be a person of principle and integrity."
In 1995, Barnstone received the Lifetime Achievement in Civil Liberties award from the Greater Houston chapter of the ACLU.
Barnstone said she and her late husband Howard, from whom she was divorced after 13 years of marriage, were both on the Texas Council on Human Relations, working to desegregate stores, hotels, schools and "everything we possibly could."
In the early 1990s, Barnstone co-founded Artist Rescue Mission, in response to the "brutalities taking place in war-torn Sarajevo."
"I read something in the paper that a group of people in France somehow related to the arts was doing things in solidarity to reach out to the people in Sarajevo," Barnstone said. "I'm thinking, 'if they can do that, we can do that.' "
Barnstone called up some friends and they raised funds to send artists in Sarajevo — everything from basic toiletries to basic art supplies.
Artist Rescue Mission remains active under the leadership of president Michael Woodson, an English teacher at San Jacinto College, 13735 Beamer Road in Pasadena.
"Gertrude's energy and strength is amazing," Woodson said. "She has always been conscientious of civil rights, human suffering and need. She made it clear we need to bring a real face to Houston, and art is a good way of doing that."
The group's next project is to bring Iraqi artists to Houston in August 2008 and showcase their art at the Station Museum, 1502 Alabama.
Barnstone co-founded the now defunct Houstonians for Global Warming Action, urging Houston Mayor Bill White to get on board with finding a solution to global warming.
An accident in February 2006 when she lost one of her eyes forced Barnstone to slow down.
"I fell forward in my house, had a blackout spell of some kind," Barnstone said. "I must have made a fist or something because something went through my eye."
Barnstone said she had just received some commissions, which had to be put off until she recovered. Now, she's back at it and very content to be doing so.
"I was slow coming back," she said. "I almost didn't think I would come back. I don't move as fast or work as fast, but I get it done."
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Gertrude Barnstone was born in 1925, in Houston, Texas|
• 1932, Studied at the Museum School of Art, Houston
• Graduated from Rice Institute (now Rice University), Houston, Texas
• 1984, Was Visiting Artist at Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas
• 1936, 1940, 1947, 1950-54, Annual Houston Artists Exhibition, Houst, Texas
• 1952, Betty McLean Gallery, Dallas, Texas
• 1959, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York
• 1974, Texas Women Artists, Laguna Gloria Art Museum, Austin, Texas
• 1979, Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston
• 1984-85, Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York
• 1987, Galveston Art League, Galveston, Texas
• Menil Collection
• Astrodome County Park, Houston, Texas
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