You’d be hard-pressed to come away from a conversation with Debbie Barrett-Jones, 36, without feeling ready to tackle every dream you’ve ever had.
Barrett-Jones is a weaving artist whose work ranges from large-scale two-dimensional weavings to wearable pieces like scarves and shawls, all made from hand-dyed yarn. She’s currently creating a triptych art piece for Lead Bank in the Crossroads. It’s an opportunity that came after Josh Rowland, the bank’s vice chairman, heard her give an inspirational talk at an ArtsKC breakfast.
The breakfast was in October. By January, Barrett-Jones was brainstorming, and at the end of April the installation will be completed. She’s revisiting an old concept, a project she made two years ago with varying shades of blue and a bold gold that she sold before she was totally ready to part with.
“I don’t want to hold onto my work necessarily,” Barrett-Jones says, “But there was something visually compelling in that with the colors that I just wanted more time to look at it.”
Barrett-Jones originally planned to be a nurse, but soon after starting the program her gut told her it wasn’t the right path.
“I looked at it as a failure that I couldn’t do it,” she says.
She worked at an adult day care while her husband went through school, and later — at the insistence of her older sister, a Kansas City Art Institute graduate — applied to KCAI herself.
“Then all of a sudden I was in art school and loving everything I was doing,” she says. “I just loved pretty much every moment. And when people complained about it, I was just like: ‘You have no idea. This is amazing.’”
She received her first commission during her sophomore year for a piece to go in Community Christian Church, which is near the Country Club Plaza and was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. When she graduated, her first daughter, now 9, was 4 months old. She now has another child, also a girl, but in between daughters she had a miscarriage.
“Through that I realized how much weaving and the process of weaving just has really helped me get through a lot and heal through a lot,” Barrett-Jones says. “While I was going through the healing process, I got a commission from Children’s Mercy Hospital. … I used it as a tool.”
Her artwork went into the only hospice room in the hospital, just off of the chapel.
“I was meant to do that to help bring some sort of comfort to people in a hospital setting with my artwork in this space, in this time.”
Her desire for her work to bring peace and comfort isn’t at odds with a bank setting, she says.
“A bank, you know, it’s not a place I like going to. I have the worries of: ‘Can I make it this month? Am I successful?’ All of those worries at a bank that can be happening, and so if I can allow those people just to have a moment of peace by looking at something visually pleasing to the eye, that’s what I would like.”
The process brings that sensation to herself as well.
“Thread by thread, color by color, you get to make a piece of fabric using your arms and your legs, and hearing these sounds of the loom. It’s really therapeutic and satisfying.”
Barrett-Jones is planning to work outside her home for the first time in May, when she’ll be opening a studio with Amina Marie Millinery, a textile artist, at 63rd Street and Holmes Avenue in Brookside. She has a solo show coming up in the fall at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center.
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