Fine Artist Barbie Bonnett Showcases Endangered Animals as Her Artistic Mission


by Jane Stahl

Fine artist Barbie Bonnett has a unique mission as an artist. “I’ve always loved animals,” she continues; “I’ve researched the endangered ones on the World Wildlife Federation website and want to bring attention and support to endangered animals.

In a recent exhibit at Studio B Fine Art Gallery, her work featured Australia’s tree kangaroo and a Tasmanian Devil. “People mistake the tree kangaroo for an opossum,” she explains. “But these animals find their food in trees and, of course, with deforestation, their food supply has dwindled.”

She continues,“The Tasmanian Devils resemble small dogs. They were formerly present across mainland Australia, but became extinct there around 3,500 years ago. It’s such a shame that more and more animals are facing extinction, and I was really surprised, for example, that certain species of rabbits are endangered. The Marsh Rabbits of Key West, are in danger because of global warming; there is less grass for them to eat.”

Barbie, a graduate of Moore College of Art and Design, was always sitting on the floor doing art. Projects throughout her schooling that had an art component kept her interested in pursuing art, but as a hobby, not a career.

“I wasn’t sure I could make a living as an artist,” she shares. To fund her college degree, she waitressed and decided that while she didn’t want to work in the “front” of a restaurant, she would be happy working in the back—making pastry.

“I always enjoyed chemistry in high school; and there’s so much to know about technique in creating pastry. Folks will say, ‘But I followed the recipe,’ but they don’t know that in creaming the butter, it must become ‘one’ with the sugar. You’ve got to keep beating it to get the air in the mix to create the ‘fluff.’ Recipes don’t describe the techniques needed to make successful pastries.” For the past eight years, Barbie can be found at the Soltane Café on Bridge Street in Phoenixville.

And, as Barbie is a vegetarian, working with pastry instead of meat entrees, was a happier choice. “I never enjoyed the taste of meat. And one day—when I was 14 or 15, I just told my mother I wouldn’t be eating meat anymore! I ate chicken and fish now and then, but, ultimately, I just cut out all animal products. I tried being vegan, but it was too hard in my line of work. Vegetarianism is easy; I like vegetables and fruits and beans for the protein.”

In discussing her visual art, which she returned to in 2008, Barbie explains that her intent was to paint in the abstract style, but, she says, “I couldn’t do it. I always saw animals in the work. My first painting in the series was supposed to be abstract but I ended up with a very graphic owl—an outline of an owl captivated me, so I gave up on abstracts and have adopted a graphic style—an impressionistic style. There’s lots of layering in my work that I developed from working with pastels in college.”

A fan of Joan Miro whose paintings were interpreted as surreal or expressionistic—childlike, emphasizing strong color, Barbie paints her animals with metallic colors so that they are recognized as living beings. A sea otter with tugboats in the background or a rooster with a tornado behind it are subjects in her series.

Barbie has enjoyed exhibiting in solo shows at local cafés, salons, or restaurants; exhibiting at Studio B Fine Art Gallery in a recent group show was a first for her. But Studio B hopes it will not be the last!

The conversation with Barbie from which this article was created can be found on the "B Inspired" podcast, available on your favorite podcast platform including Anchor FM, Spotify, Google, Castbox, Breaker, Overcast, Pocket Casts, and RadioPublic, and Apple.

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