By Cassidy Rust
Looking at discarded, unwanted wood and being able to see beauty and art is a rare gift: a gift that Arizona artist Lora Barnhiser possesses.
Barnhiser uses tossed out wood as her canvas where she paints everything from pets and pots of cacti to abstract pieces where she is guided by the grain in the wood in her choice of colors and brush stokes. Cacti and desert landscapes are her best sellers and the quickest of her pieces to make. However, Barnhiser has more fun with the abstract paintings and finds them the most fulfilling.
Barnhiser creates some pieces on thick blocks of wood that can stand on their own while others are thin and are meant to be hung on a wall. The abstracts are often grouped together to create a larger work of art. And then there are “Wooden Misfit Art,” tiny works of art created on odd or unevenly shaped wood that she neither alters nor adjusts. Instead, she works with whatever she is given.
Barnhiser’s process of creating her art begins by putting on music, either oldies or alternative. Then she takes a block of wood and burns it to make the outline of her design. She then goes in and paints with watercolors on the wood.
Although she burns the wood, she doesn’t change the overall shape or texture of any of the wood she obtains.
“Sometimes I sand them if they’re lumpy,” Barnhiser said. “Usually, I like to keep the general shape and size that’s given to me. It’s fun to use that challenge to have that be your canvas. What you have is what you work with.”
Barnhiser was born in Ohio and graduated from Bowling Green State University with a fine arts degree and never doubted that she would become an artist
“I always knew I should be majoring in arts,” Barnhiser said. “It was the only thing I felt strong in and just figured it would somehow all pan out.”
She moved to Phoenix and after working as an art instructor at a Boys and Girls Club she discovered a love for teaching. Barniser was inspired by her dad, a shop teacher, who always told her teaching was the greatest job. The artist currently teaches art at Tolleson Union High School.
Having a father who taught shop might not have been the reason she decided on wood as a canvas. It definitely helped to know how to use wood and the tools properly. Barnhiser, who considers herself an environmentalist, stumbled upon wood as her medium by surprise. She had just started teaching, and one of her students told her that a store was throwing out all of their wood.
This kind of material is also free; a great thing for anyone, especially an artist and teacher. She didn’t have to purchase canvas paper or leather or any other type of material for her art, making the choice both affordable and sustainable.
Barnhiser now has a website where people can purchase her work or make requests, but she didn’t start out selling her pieces. Creating art, including jewelry, began as a hobby. It wasn’t until a friend suggested that she start selling her art that she put her work out into the world.
Currently, Barnhiser shows at Phoenix Flea twice a year, and her work is also on display at MADE art boutique on Roosevelt Row and Rubymint General on McDowell Road in Phoenix.
Her medium keeps her a part of different art communities — the display and gallery world as well as the world of smaller wearable art. This overlap allows Barnhiser to meet all different kinds of artists.
“It’s something that sets you apart from other people,” said Barnhiser, of her chosen profession. “Not everyone has that ability to visually show what they feel and think. Being an artist in Phoenix has allowed me to meet so many people and make a lot of friends and become more involved with the community.”
Barnhiser is excited to see where the future will take her, both with her art and with the twins she’s expecting.
“I don’t know what the future’s going to look like with twins coming into the picture,” Barnhiser said. “It’ll be interesting to see how that changes not only the amount of work I produce, but also if that affects what I make as a mom. It’ll be a big lifestyle change.”
Cassidy Rust is an intern at Green Living magazine. She is in her junior year at Arizona State University and is majoring in journalism. With plans to graduate at the end of the year, she’s excited about where journalism and life will take her.