The natural world of artist Barbara Harman


Barbara Harman’s “Nuthatch Spring,” which graces the cover of the new issue of MOQ, encourages us that this colder-than-usual March really will melt into the colorful warm spring that we all are aching for. You can also see Harman’s art in the Women’s Art Registry of Minnesota (WARM) All-Member Juried Exhibition at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts through April 12 (6666 East River Road, Fridley, ); her multi-media piece, “Sparrow” was awarded third place and is included in the show.

Harman earned a BFA in printmaking at the University of Cincinnati, and an MFA from Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. She has lived in Minneapolis for the past 18 years, and works from her home studio in a variety of printmaking forms, including the one-of-a-kind monotype of our cover image. We asked Harman to tell us a little about her process and inspiration.

I understand that you like to work in series. Please tell us a little about the series of which our cover image, “Nuthatch Spring,” is a part.

Nuthatch Spring is part of a large series called By Water, that I started four years ago. My series tend to last four to six years, while I explore an idea or concept that has captured my interest. I often have no idea in the beginning — sometimes for as long as a year — what a new series is about until I’ve done quite a lot of work. I just find myself making work that “points” in a certain direction, repeating the same elements over a period of time.

While I’m in the beginning stages of a new series, I am flooded with ideas. I fill up notebooks with sketches, plans, writing, quotes, research, and I take hundreds of photographs, while I try to figure out where the work is leading me. There’s always an aha moment, often after I have made a pivotal piece that incorporates key elements of what I’ve been thinking about. In the case of the water series, after an extended period of making work that kept asking me for something more that I couldn’t define, I had a dream about being in a canoe on the water. I woke in the middle of paddling down a quiet stream, smiled to myself, said “Oh!” and went back to sleep. From that point onward in the series, canoes, boats, birds, sometimes other elements, represented the human viewpoint, which “grounded” the work for me.

“Nuthatch Spring” is a monotype. A monotype (as opposed to a monoprint, which is a slightly different animal) is a one-of-a-kind work created by applying ink directly to a nonrepeatable matrix. Monoprints, on the other hand, have a plate, stone, or block with a repeatable image on it that, because of how it is inked, wiped or added to after printing, becomes separate and unique outside of an edition of prints from the same matrix.

All of my 2-D work — monotypes, paintings, works on fabric — use what are really printmaking techniques, regardless of the specific medium. So, unlike painters, who create their images directly on paper or canvas with brushes, I think in layers. I build my images one color at a time, one stencil at a time, one stamp at a time, one piece of fabric at a time, one stitch at a time. I use the same stencils (both handcut and manufactured, both positive and negative), the same handcut stamps, the same texture materials, interchangeably in my work. This creates unity within a series, and allows me to explore an idea in depth.

Aside from whatever dreams I may be having about the work I do, the primary resources for my visual imagination reside in nature. I have been walking through the different parts of the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington since early 2001. It continues to provide me with a rich variety of natural environments from which to draw inspiration.

What are you working on currently?
The piece in the WARM All-Member Juried Show at Banfill-Locke is the newest of my works. It is a multi-media sculptural piece that includes a sparrow’s nest, tree branches and hanging fabric. This was the culminating work for my recent solo show at Augsburg College Christensen Center Art Gallery. It brought together a lot of the things I had been thinking about and experimenting with in more familiar media. I really want to do more work in this direction, both larger and smaller. I am hoping to collaborate with several other WARM artists for a large installation.

Where can people see your work?
I have a large studio sale in my home twice a year and show whenever and wherever I can the rest of the time. I’m also very involved with WARM as a Mentor and will have work in two Mentor Program exhibitions later this year. My small group within Project Art for Nature (PAN, ), has an exhibition scheduled at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in November 2008. Recently, Spirit One Art Center in Wayzata ( has taken on some of my fiber pieces and monotypes. Minnesota Center for Book Arts ( where I taught for many years, sells my artist books, instruction books and journals. Blue Moon Trading Company (46th and Bryant, South Minneapolis) carries my cards, blank journals and some smaller framed prints. The events page on my Web site ( ), lists upcoming exhibits, sales, workshops and classes. A downloadable pdf of my schedule for the remainder of 2008 is also available on my Web site. Those who would like to receive e-mail announcements of my upcoming events and classes can request that by sending an e-mail to: