South Charlotte

Local artist loves the 'surprise' of creation

Step through the doorway of Barbara Powell's apartment at Southminster, a continuing-care retirement community on Park Road, and it's obvious an artist lives inside.

Powell, who goes by the nickname "Barb," has been a resident here for several years - time enough to fill the walls of her home with her paintings. A member of the residents' art committee, she's being recognized as artist-of-the-month for January and February at Southminster, which has an art studio downstairs with work areas and classroom space.

There are a number of skilled artists at Southminster, as evidenced by the many eye-catching projects in various stages scattered about the community's studio.

But for now, Powell is the star.

A large display window at the studio entrance is devoted temporarily to her creations; some of her works also are displayed in other prominent locations throughout the building.

Powell says she's been a student of art for some 35 years. She primarily uses watercolor and acrylic paints and watercolor crayons.

Sometimes her paintings are strictly watercolors; at other times she creates mixed-media art, incorporating things such as colored tissue paper she dyes herself - she says the store-bought colored papers fade.

Objects she's discovered contribute an unusual element to her pieces. Powell holds up a small container of beautiful but lifeless butterflies and bumblebees, though it's important to note they already had met their end when she encountered them. The creatures will have a certain immortality now: The insects' wings can be coated in acrylic, which acts as a preservative.

That isn't all she uses. Powell has included tree bark found floating along the Catawba River. Items like newspaper and pipe cleaners aren't off-limits, either.

She began experimenting with clay after someone gave her some. She easily got the hang of it, turning the chunk into two figurines.

Powell, 81, is a Brooklyn, N.Y., native whose late husband, William, was in the insurance business. She's the mother of three adult children.

One of her favorite paintings is of her late husband and his dog, a German short-haired pointer.

"They were a wonderful pair," Powell said.

She views her hobby as an extension of previous professional pursuits: teaching children in special education and working with patients in hospital cancer support groups. Art therapy was an inroad to both.

"Art is such a wonderful way to bring out ideas and thoughts," she said.

Powell describes an artist's life as "Creating something from nothing. Not knowing what I'm going to do. Just letting whatever happens with the medium I'm working with develop.

"It surprises me. I love the surprises of it," she said.

Powell said she looks forward to an upcoming trip with fellow Southminster artists to the Columbia Museum of Art, an international art museum in South Carolina housing European, American and Asian art.