Saturday, September 11, 2010

Allen and Mita Barter

Allen and Mita Barter truly live the good life, and they prove that you don’t have to be a millionaire to do it.  With an eclectic, former homesteader in Twentynine Palms, a cabin in Big Bear and a beach shack in Baja, they have achieved the perfect locational triangle for high desert living.

They moved to Twentynine Palms thirty-two years ago, when Allen accepted a position teaching art at Twentynine Palms Continuation High School.  Mita worked for the school system as well, starting as an instructional assistant for severely handicapped students and then becoming a library technician at the Twentynine Palms Junior High.   Along the way they raised two sons: Nicholas, now a Waldorf teacher in northern California and Markland, a purchasing agent for Southwest Airlines.  The boys were willing accomplices in many of Mita’s early art/home renovation projects.

The Barters took full advantage of their school vacations and summers off to travel extensively throughout the years, and continue their peripatetic lifestyle in retirement.  In fact, this interview was scheduled at least a month in advance, to coincide with a brief intermission in this summer’s wanderings. 
Allen Barter in front of his artwork.
Allen has been making art since his college days, and is no stranger to the sometimes controversial nature of artistic expression.  In the late 70’s, he erected a temporary half-bridge across Chico Creek (with the permission of the president of Chico State University) which landed him in hot water with the Sierra Club (of which he was a card-carrying member at the time).  Later, some of the old guard in Twentynine Palms found a nude triptych offensive. 

The female form continues to be a dominant motif in Allen’s work.  Currently, he is working with cement to create three-dimensional nudes which also incorporate metal and other found objects.  He is inspired by the work of Jackson Pollack, and seeks to emulate the fluidity of Pollack’s canvases in his assemblages.

Allen’s work has been shown in the Tanno Gallery, a juried show in San Felipe, the gallery at Chico State, and in a joint show with Mita at Wonder Valley’s Glass Outhouse Gallery, entitled “Allen and Mita in Wonderland”.

Prior to retiring in 2003, Mita considered her primary artistic expressions to be the creation of her amazing home and her cooking.  Now, Mita has gone from shelving books to cutting them up for use in her tiny assemblages, which she calls “Rusty Bits”.  Each of these works starts with a rusty can, often a sardine can, and a background, which could be anything from an old piece of roofing tile to an antique map fragment.  Words cut from books drive the theme of the piece, which is then embellished with ornaments and fragments of found objects.   Phrases sometimes are discovered fully formed in books, but often come together mysteriously in a way that  gives Mita goosebumps.  Her studio is a wonderland of tiny castoffs, the gleanings from yard sales and swap meets, friends’ junk drawers and jewelry boxes.  When asked to describe her art, Mita once said, “I make things out of nothing”, to which the listener replied, “No, you make things out of everything!”
Mita at work, cutting words for her assemblage.

Mita’ work has been shown at the Twentynine Palms Inn, and currently can be found in two Joshua Tree galleries, The True World Gallery and Woods in the Desert.  Come and visit their wonderful studio on the first weekend, October 23rd and 24th.
written by Bonnie Kopp