Work of longtime ‘starving artist’ is fair favorite

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ML-cover-Hughes02Barbara F. Hughes’ work is colorful and whimsical. Pictured above, clockwise beginning at upper left, are “Aunt-em-Knits,” “Selecting-Sunday-Dinner,” “Youngster-Learning-to-Multiply”and “Big-Sale- at-Land’s-End.” (Submitted images courtesy Barbara F. Hughes)The Mount Mary grounds were filled with more than 200 young artisans hoping to capture the interest of more than 8,500 visitors shopping for jewelry, paintings, pottery or a variety of other media. Then there was Barbara Frenekes Hughes. Her hair was chalk white, but clothing bright and effervescent. Her animated and enthusiastic movements displayed a demeanor that sifted the line between the young and the seasoned.
Art likes to contradict itself. Its rules are made to be broken. Because those rules favor the young, older artists who come on strong are particularly appreciated. Their example derails careerist thinking and restores a sense of possibility.
Few artists come on stronger in Milwaukee than 77-year-old Hughes who was one of the older artists at the 43rd annual Mount Mary Starving Artist Fair last month. Known for her woodcuts and serigraphs, she concentrates on animals, people and insects, portraying them in a colorful, whimsical way.
According to Barbara Muth, one of the founders of the alumni-run show, Hughes is a talented artist whose consistent work has allowed automatic acceptance to the show for many years.
“Being automatically accepted means that the artist does not have to send samples of their work when the jurying takes place,” she said. “Those artists have had their work reviewed the previous year and their work is acceptable. Many artists feel that it is a compliment.”
Due to her popularity and accomplishments, Hughes was named featured artist for the 2011 Starving Artist Fair.
In 1969, she began her Mount Mary stint alongside her parents, well known former Milwaukee-area artists, Max and Ava Fernekes.
“Her father, Max, was a graphic artist, and her mother, Ava, was a potter,” said Muth. And now Barbara has become so popular over the years that she has second and third generation fans who collect her artwork. She exhibits matted and framed limited edition prints of original woodcuts/serigraphs as well as some acrylic paintings at our show. She also exhibits at other shows in southeast Wisconsin and has received many purchase awards and has a nice collection of honorable mentions and even a few cash awards in her 50 years of exhibiting.”
Following in her parents’ footsteps isn’t something Hughes planned. She attended UW-Madison intent on majoring in home economics, which, according to her, became a bit of a joke.
“It was funny to think that I would be suited for home economics,” she said, laughing. “I could sew, but I hadn’t cooked more than three or four things, and I only did that to win a ribbon and a cash prize in the county fair. But I did not, and still have not and nor will I ever, catch on to cleaning. No, thank you. I am not an organizational person. I am typical artist and sew, paint and do a lot of other things. I have bits of ‘schnibble’ everywhere.”
While discerning her college career, Hughes couldn’t deny her passion for art; it had been there all along – in grade school when she excelled in art class, in high school helping her mother decorate for proms and parties, watching her father create exquisite prints, and later, creating her own jewelry and print making designs. She graduated from UW in 1960 with a bachelor’s degree in art after studying printmaking with the late Alfred Sessier and Dean Meeker.
Since graduating college, Hughes has sold her work at art fairs, galleries and exclusive shows across the country. Her creations seem to emerge with ease as she finds beauty and art in her everyday life.
“I think things are always floating around in my mind from things that I either see or perhaps miss-see and they often suggest something to me,” she explained. “It works pretty easily and I am often several subject matters ahead of actually creating something.”
As a nationally recognized artist, Hughes has received several awards, but the greatest was about 15 years ago, when she received Best of Show in Oshkosh.
“I got $200 for my graphic work and it was very nice and made me feel so good about what I do,” she said. “I never expected it, but I sure enjoyed the attention.”
In addition to her art, Hughes continues to work in her husband David’s law office full time, and when possible, visits her two sons and two grandchildren.
“I don’t work as much as I used to on my art because I have slowed down my showings to just two fairs, but I am always doing something art-wise all the time it seems,” she said “If it isn’t making pictures or prints to sell, it is something to amuse myself. I like to play with beads, make jewelry and do sewing and mending. I still hem my husband’s pants, and make stuff for my grandkids. They are 9 and 11 now and are no longer too crazy about Grandma making them clothes, but I can get away with making some warm, cuddly and wild pajamas and they don’t complain too much! It is just fun to keep busy.”

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