It may be time to head to the beach or the mountains, but if you stay in town there’s plenty to do. The arts never take a vacation! A painting collection in a log cabin in Saks is one attraction this month, as well as a book signing at Oxford Performing Arts Center on Saturday and a musical comedy at Theatre of Gadsden.

Art collection for all to see

Standing in the log cabin and seeing such a great variety of artwork leads me to conclude that, when it comes to visual art, Ethel Barker must have been a human kaleidoscope.

When Barker’s friends came to visit, they knew to go directly to her studio. There she was usually creating oils, watercolors, pastels or acrylics. If they sat and talked with her on the porch of her home in Saks, they found her at work with needlepoint, making baskets, or tatting.

But none of it was really work for this lady who taught art for 40 years in Tanglewoods, the cabin where her students gathered for classes.

Ethel Barker passed away this past April, but her legacy lives on in her art collection, now on view in the cabin. About 150 colorful pieces fill the large room. Her works, primarily oils, take the viewer to historic homes, rustic barns and people in portraits. There are also florals, landscapes and waterscapes.

Two of the landmarks of special interest are the Greenleaf House in Jacksonville and Aderholdt’s Mill, also in the Jacksonville area. One of the first grist mills in Alabama, it is now a private residence.

“She had a way of making you feel a sense of time and place in her paintings,” said Beth Whetstone, a former student of Barker’s and now an art teacher. “She was a skilled artist and very experimental. This made her classes interesting and fun. In the winter, she would seat us around the fireplace and serve Russian tea.”

Barker’s family hopes that her art can be exhibited in area galleries in the months ahead. Arrangements are being made for pieces to be hung in Nunnally’s Custom Frame & Gallery in downtown Anniston and in the Ayers Room in the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County. But for now, Barker’s former students and friends are welcome to come by appointment and browse through the collection.

Carolyn Howard, who taught art at Oxford High School during Barker’s teaching years, knew the artist well. “Not only did she love art but she liked to share her pleasure,” Howard said.

One example of this sharing was Barker’s founding of the Saks Art and Crafts Club in 1959. It was open to anyone interested in studying and training to become an artist. The group, which hosted annual exhibits in the City Auditorium, met in a building that was donated to the club by the Calhoun County Board of Education. It was located adjacent to Saks High School.

Barker was determined to be the best artist that she could possibly be, said Page Barker, her daughter-in-law. There is a framed certificate in a family album that attests to that quality. The certificate states that Barker completed the “Famous Artist Course,” an opportunity widely advertised in the 1960s. A three-year correspondence series, it was based in Westport, Conn.

Before Barker could enroll, there was only one problem. The entrance fee was $500, much more than she had saved. “But the words ‘not possible’ weren’t in her mindset,” Page remembers well. “She entered an exhibit in Birmingham, took her paintings and sold almost all of them. The next day she went back and sold more, earning just over the $500 for the two days.”

The course was very intense, “something like graduate school to her,” Page added.

“I hope people will see Ethel Barker’s work and realize what a treasure we have in the works she left.” Whetstone said.

Those interested in seeing the art may contact Page at 941-773-4501.

Book signing Saturday for football coach

The Oxford Arts Council invites the public to a book signing on Saturday from noon-2 p.m. for Sam Graham, a football coach at Oxford High School from 2008-14. The event will be in new downstairs venue at the Oxford Performing Arts Center, The Studio.

Graham’s book is called “Whole Person Development,” and deals with the importance of wise choices in spiritual, social, academic and athletic issues.

“It was my job as coach to influence young athletes in making these decisions, but the book is really for all ages,” Graham said. Everyone is invited.

Theatre of Gadsden announces new season

In celebration of its 90th year, Theatre of Gadsden held a 2020 Season Reveal event on June 29 and announced its choices for the 2020 season of plays and musicals. The exact dates will be announced at a later date. The productions are at the Ritz Theatre, 310 Wall St. in Gadsden. The season’s selections are:

• “The Sound of Music” in March.

• “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” in May.

• “Ragtime” in July.

• “Crimes of the Heart” in September.

• “Evita” in November.

Season tickets are on sale now. They are $70 per person. Visit TOG’s website at theatreofgadsden.org.

Continuing its 2019 season, TOG presents “Annie” this month, July 12-21, “Miracle Worker” Sept. 13-22 and “Quilters” Nov. 15-24.

Hervey Folsom writes about the local arts scene every Sunday. Contact her at herveyfolsom@yahoo.com.

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