To some, bark is just dead wood, the hard exterior of a tree that has been ripped off or fallen, nothing interesting or special.
For senior Rebecca Schmidt, bark holds a certain kind of energy, and she is using that to repurpose something others find dead and useless, and bring an overall meaning to the idea of bark: transformation and rebirth.
Some may laugh, or find it odd. But these bark sculptures are taking this Studio Art major from Urbandale, Iowa, to the next step in her journey as an artist: The Des Moines Arts Festival Emerging Iowa Artist Program.
Schmidt has been chosen, along with several other young college artists in Iowa, to have her own booth to display and sell her artwork.
But why bark sculptures?
Stuck in a creative rut her fall semester, Schmidt had started with canvases, but was looking for a new surface to paint on.
“I got bored with having a canvas, so the bark is a space and a form to hold emotional energy,” she said.
For her work, she finds bark that has fallen off trees, attaches them together with construction adhesive, and then paints them with oil, in different colors. This creates a bark relief sculptures. After creating her first one last fall, she had a vision for an entire display of different bark sculptures.
“Each body of work has its own inspiration,” she said. “I work in a lot of different mediums and different energies for each piece…everything has different energy…It was the right vision at the right time that came to life.”
The entire work of bark sculptures focuses on themes of life and death and rebirth, or the idea according to Schmidt that different parts of ourselves live and die and we are reborn in new ways.
“Whether that’s old beliefs about others, and ourselves, or different identities we used to have,” she said, “so the bark I found on the ground, was once living, but now I am repurposing it, and giving it new life as a sculpture.
Schmidt is highly aware of feeling and energy from everyone and thing around her. Growing up in Urbandale, she had heard of Simpson, but ultimately chose it because of the feeling she got when she visited.
“I went and visited other schools,” she said, “but I just kept coming back to Simpson because I loved the feeling of it…I really felt it was a space I would be able to grow and become confident in myself as a person.”
As a child, Schmidt attended the Des Moines Art Festival for years, but had never imagined herself one day being an Emerging Iowa Artist, though as she got older the idea became an unattainable dream living in the back of her head.
Art started in her childhood at her Crayola table. Throughout school her talent for drawing was always recognized by her teachers and peers.
“In elementary school, other kids would ask me ‘Becca, how do you draw?’ and my response was just ‘I don’t know? I just draw.’”
Schmidt was also an All-State artist in high school, had always shown she was gifted in art.
“I think a lot of people are drawn to what they get recognition for, or what people tell them they are good at, but moving into college, that’s when it became something more than a performance for other people,” she said.
Schmidt came to Simpson as an English major, not a Studio Art major. Eventually, after discovering Art Therapy, Schmidt decided to change to a Studio Art major, and after this past fall when the first bark sculpture was born, decided to apply for the festival.
One of the hardest aspects of being an artist for Schmidt was accepting that any of the art she has created and allowed the public to see may be interpreted differently than she may have intended it.
“I’ve had to come to the conclusion that, no matter how much personal significance to you the work has, the audience isn’t going to have any clue of that,” she said. They will interpret it based on their own experience… I’ve grown a lot tougher because of it.”
For Schmidt, art is very personal, and is essentially baring her soul to the world, so criticism can be tough. Schmidt has used artwork to express herself and her experiences throughout her life, even creating one painting to express her experience with sexual assault in high school.
“Not all artists see their work as personal, in fact some keep it very distant from themselves,” she said, “That is not me. But I’ve grown a lot from those harsh critiques that at the time were soul shattering. But I think that’s a necessary piece, especially in the academic world.”
She added, “Being aware of where your work fits in the context of modern art is important.”
For her junior year Simpson Symposium Day, Schmidt presented a body of work that included old pieces of clothing encased in wallpaper paste to embody past identities. For her senior capstone, she presented a series of nude drawings of women, which expressed their different energies through color.
“Being able to actually talk and explain your work at something like Symposium was really nice,” she said. “People may still not see it the way you do, but you can explain and at least hope they get something out of it.”
While not completely certain about the future, Schmidt knows that whatever it is, art will be a part of it.
“These bark relief sculptures are about that process of life, death and rebirth, and creating healing and beauty from old parts of ourselves and finding meaning of that.”
For more information on the Des Moines Arts Festival, visit http://desmoinesartsfestival.org. The festival is June 22 – 24.