Entering his 51st year as a full-time artist, Barney Bellinger’s Welded Steel: Shape, Form & Light is the Adirondack artist’s first exhibition of large-scale steel sculpture.

Barney is a self-taught artist, gaining his knowledge from books, inherited wisdom and immersing himself in the beauty of the Adirondacks. He has been exploring forests since he was 4 years old, when his grandfather would take him into the wilderness and teach him about trees and forest lore. These trips instilled in him a lifelong love for the outdoors.

Shaped and Formed

Barney’s work has evolved many times over the years, from customized motorcycles and cars to carved gold leaf signs to organic furniture built with natural materials from the forest. At this show, Bellinger returns to the forest—and the natural elements that inspire his work—with steel sculpture that represent his diverse experiences in nature. Whether it’s learning to fish with his grandfather, or exploring the unique forms of pickerel plants with his granddaughters, this exhibition not only tells the story of his time in nature, but also the story of his material. Like other natural elements, the steel with which he works, has its own lifecycle. Mined from the earth, formed into useful material, it now returns to the earth as sculpture. 

 

“Some people won’t understand it or get it until they walk through and see how I’ve taken these raw materials and formed and shaped them to mimic nature,” said Bellinger. “As you’re walking through The Wild Center, pay attention to how the exhibit is set up. Think to yourself, ‘I would have put this one over there,’ or ask, ‘Why didn’t this piece move? Why did he put that big one in the middle when I think it should have been over here?’ If you want, write me a letter and ask me why. I’ll tell you.”  Bellinger continued, “All of this would not be possible without the help, support and continued encouragement of my wife, Susan.”

A Soundtrack

The exhibit is accompanied by a newly commissioned five-piece instrumental composition created by musician and educator Eric Sturr, who published music under the moniker Whatever Penny. The album, entitled “Iron Harvest,” draws direct inspiration from Bellinger’s work.  The piece, installed in The Wild Center’s Forest Music immersive sound trail, mixes metallic sounds and instruments with natural sounding harmonies of marimba and violins.

About Barney Bellinger

A native of Johnstown, Barney was born in 1953. He graduated high school in 1971 and started Barney’s Custom Paint Shop out of his father’s garage. He spent nine years customizing motorcycles, cars and vans with metal sculpture and hand-painted designs until a fire destroyed most of his tools and inventory in 1980.

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Faced with starting over from scratch, Barney instead turned his focus to a new endeavor: custom sign building. He founded Barney’s Sign Company and created hand-carved, gold leaf-embellished signs with hand-painted pictorials for businesses in Saratoga Springs. His work aligned perfectly with a historic preservation movement to restore the Victorian character of the city, and soon his signs were commissioned throughout the Northeast.

Barney sold his first piece of art as a teenager in 1970 and has made a living from his art ever since. In 1990, he was inspired to build his own rustic furniture following a visit to the Adirondack Museum’s Rustic Furniture Fair. In 1994, he sold his sign business and started Sampson Bog Studio alongside his wife, Susan, and daughter, Erin Estelle.

Rustic furniture collector, dealer, writer, lecturer and design consultant Ralph Kylloe called Barney a “quintessential rustic artist,” one of the best known and most sought after on the East Coast. He is identifiable by the unique style he brings to interior design, sculptural furniture and lighting, and oil paintings. Out of natural and repurposed materials, he creates abstract forms inspired by beetles, fish and found objects, melded with practical furniture designs and paintings to create pieces that are both functional and visually astonishing.

Barney is a self-taught artist, gaining his knowledge from books, inherited wisdom and immersing himself in the beauty of the Adirondacks. He has been exploring forests since he was 4 years old, when his grandfather would take him into the wilderness and teach him about trees and forest lore. These trips instilled in him a lifelong love for the outdoors.

Some have called Barney an “empirical” artist, meaning he creates based on observation and experience rather than systems or theories. His first business taught him the meticulous brushwork that he now uses in his paintings, while his sign business taught him about layout, elaborate carving and gold leaf application. He relies on his photography as a tool to learn about composition and setting a scene with his paintings. The result: decades of eminence in his field and a vastly diverse body of work.

“Not all things can be pre-planned when using natural elements along with found objects,” Barney said. “Once a piece has been put together and a personality has been established, the painting is applied to harmonize in both color and subject matter.”

Barney’s work has been exhibited at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WY; the Martin Harris Gallery in Jackson, WY; the Smithsonian Institution; the Doyle Gallery in New York City; the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY; the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY; the High Point Furnishings Show in High Point, NC; the Ralph Kylloe Rustic Gallery in Lake George, NY; and the Orvis Company. His pieces are found in public and private venues across the United States and around the world. He was the subject of a feature article in Megeve, France’s Cote Ouest magazine, which led to commissions for custom furniture and lighting in France. He has also been featured in The Angler’s Life: Collecting and Traditions by Laurence Sheehan and William Stites, Contemporary Western Design: High-Style Furniture & Interiors by Thea Marx and multiple rustic furniture and architecture books published by Ralph Kylloe. He was one of the select artists at the Third Annual Western Visions Furniture Show and Sale and won Best of Show at the Adirondack Museum Annual Rustic Furniture Fair and the Northeastern Woodworkers Association Expo.

In addition to working out of Sampson Bog Studio, Barney is an artist-in-residence at the Paul Nigra Center for Creative Arts. His studio and workshop there is open to public viewing by appointment. He has also taught a series of classes there to the students in Transitions, a postsecondary program co-located with the Nigra Arts Center that supports teens and young adults with autism and learning differences who want to go to college or live independently. For more information about Barney, visit www.facebook.com/BarneyBellinger.