Mill worker answers call to be an artist
Appearances really can deceive. Take the richly detailed paintings of Dave Barnhouse for instance. These seem to be the work of a lifelong artist, not a steel mill worker who taught himself to paint.
Barnhouse, a Jefferson County Farm Bureau member, was following his father’s footsteps as a steelworker when art beckoned.
“My son was playing in a Legion baseball tournament, and I had a lot of down time inbetween games,” said Barnhouse, “I picked up an artist magazine to read at the hotel and for the first time in my life, the artistic juices started flowing.”
He went from being a “two week winter painter,” steelworker and singer in gospel groups to that of full-time artist. He took early retirement 24 years ago to launch his new career.
Barnhouse did several paintings and sent them to Hadley House in 1994, a Minneapolis-based company that sells framed works representing a variety of artists. He’s been selling his work independently since 2007.
“I would have loved to have sat at the feet of some great master or instructor, but I was totally self-taught, learning as I went along,” he said.
While personal interests, such as the sea and aviation, called as subject matter, “I decided to paint rural farm scenes. Growing up in the country, I was surrounded by what you see in my work,” he said. “To my surprise there seemed to be a real interest in this subject.”
There is so much interest that four counties in eastern Ohio came together to commission a painting to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ohio Farm Bureau. The original painting will be auctioned off at the Farm Bureau’s 100th annual meeting in December and the money raised will be split evenly among Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation’s County Impact Funds for Carroll, Harrison, Jefferson and Tuscarawas County Farm Bureaus. A limited number of prints will also be available to purchase for $125 each.
The oil painting created for Farm Bureau is representative of his work. The scene depicts the softly lighted end of day, when work is finished and a calm seems to settle just before the dew. Windows are aglow in the feed mill typical of the period just after World War I. People gather in the gentle twilight. But there’s also a hint at what’s to come. Pickup trucks, a 1920 Mack on the left, and a 1919 Ford on the right, became icons of rural America.
Harrison County Farm Bureau President John Seleski championed Barnhouse’s work before the counties commissioned the artist for the commemorative painting and has purchased many of his pieces.
“His paintings take you back in time, to a simpler time, back to my childhood,” said Seleski, who lives on the corner of a farm in Hopedale that has been in his family for a century. “I grew up on an old tractor.”
Farm and small town scenes predominate as subject matter, but Barnhouse has a number of paintings featuring Harley-Davidson motorcycles in his portfolio. He doesn’t ride, but “as a small boy I was fascinated with the chrome, the smell and look of the bikes. I enjoyed painting them and the nostalgia mindset that was felt. Many biker fans seem to enjoy the paintings.”
Barnhouse considers his work loose realism, not photo realism. He’s been using a palette knife more in recent work to distance the effect from a photographic look. This is the technique used in the Farm Bureau painting.
The artist still lives in the Richmond area where he grew up. He and his wife, Marie, have been married 56 years and have four children and 10 grandchildren.
There are no plans for putting down those paint brushes. “After 24 years I still enjoy being in the studio creating paintings that I hope will bring pleasure to many people,” he said.