Barbara Mathews is this year’s winner of the “Life of an Artist” award from the UW-Whitewater at Rock County Foundation.

By Greg Little


Editor’s Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece includes a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.

Barbara Mathews

Beauty has always been important to Barbara Mathews.

In addition to being a master in watercolor painting, the Brooklyn, Wisconsin, product also has a long history in cosmetology. A former salon owner in Janesville, she still works there to improve human beauty two days each week.

Mathews started teaching painting classes about 25 years ago. While she has won various local and national awards for her work, she says none is as important to her as the people who have “touched my heart through my art.”

Family is also important. Mathews grew up with five siblings on a dairy farm, and today, she and her husband, John, have three grown kids of their own: Renee Gille, Christopher DeRemer and Christopher Mathews.

On Friday, Mathews will be recognized for a lifetime of creativity when the UW-Whitewater at Rock County Foundation presents her with its prestigious Life of an Artist Award during the annual Art in the Atrium event (formerly Taste of Culture) from 6-9:30 p.m. in Hyatt Smith Hall on the UW-Whitewater at Rock County campus, 2909 Kellogg Ave., Janesville. Tickets are $50, and the event features food, drinks, live music and a silent auction. For more information, visit rock.uwc.edu/community/foundation or call 608-758-6565, ext. 390.

To learn more about Mathews and her class offerings, search for her studio, Lazy River Studio, on Facebook, or email her at bmathews2@chater.net

1. How old were you when you realized you had real artistic talent? I’m not sure I’ve realized that yet. As most children, I drew, colored, painted and had fun with the process. I was scolded for not drawing the tree correctly. The teacher wanted a lollipop tree, but I had branches going all directions. I was very shy and was humiliated in front of the class. It was my first critique, and it hurt.

2. In your opinion, what is the true definition of art? Children are born with an ability to initiate new ideas and solve problems uniquely. Children have a built-in drive for discovery. We are born creative. Using that creativity is art. Over time, we have been steered away from venturing, wandering and wondering. We have been taught to think logically but not daring or instinctively, so many people lose their ability to create.

3. My very favorite food is: My husband’s homemade bread and chocolate cookies.

4. Watercolors are rather unforgiving, and they can be a very difficult medium. What drew you to them? I love the challenge. No other medium compares. You can literally watch the pigment and water dance. No brush can move pigment like gravity can. It can paint itself.

5. What was the first piece you remember selling, and how did it feel to learn someone was willing to pay for your creativity? I started painting with acrylics and painting mainly wildlife. I was blown away that anyone would give me money for something that gave me so much joy. I still feel that way.

6. You have been conducting your “Come Paint With Me” travel art programs for many years? What led you to start that? I was teaching a class at Olde Towne Mall (in Janesville) near Curt Buggs and Sue Whitford’s Paintin’ Place Gallery. After a class, Nancy McKinnin asked me if I would be interested in teaching on a cruise. I didn’t even have to think about it and said, “Yes, of course.” That started many years of travel and painting. We have taken art trips to many destinations in the Caribbean, Ireland, Mexico, Hawaii, Maine and the East Coast, Italy, Greece and destinations in the U.S. On May 1, we will be painting in Croatia.

7. Of all the places you’ve traveled, which would you say has been your favorite? That’s kind of like asking a mom which of her children is her favorite. I love to travel and have been so blessed to see so many wonderful places in the world. I must love islands because one of my favorites will always be the British Virgin Islands. Also Washington Island in Door County. For me, travel has opened my eyes to fascinating experiences and people throughout the world.

8. Do you get more satisfaction from creating art yourself or from teaching others to do so? I love to paint. It has opened my eyes to the beauty that surrounds us. We don’t have to travel around the world to experience the wonders of life. But nothing comes close to watching someone put that first stroke of paint down. After the pain of the process, to see that “a-ha” moment and watch someone find the joy in his or her own creativity (is rewarding). I have watched people paint through the pain in their lives. It takes us to a special place.

9. You have participated in Mercyhealth’s “Wigs for Patients” program since its inception. Why is this particular charity so important to you? We have all experienced loved ones with cancer. Both my parents and my grand-niece were cancer survivors. For as horrible as the disease and treatments are, losing your hair is devastating. We can do something to help, and the joy in a patient’s face is priceless.

10. What has proven to be the best piece of advice you’ve ever received about art? Never be satisfied. There is always something new, different, exciting and challenging.

11. Who is your favorite artist? Leonardo Da Vinci. Genius.

12. Do you have any creative rituals before you start working? As most people know, I get up early, have my coffee and paint. I paint every day, and I paint like I read books—several at a time.

13. Share the title of the last good book you read. “Children Save Yourselves” by local author Ronald Berger. Books like this remind me of the strength of the human spirit.

14. Are you a self-taught artist, or do you have a mentor? I am mainly self-taught, but I have taken many classes by well-known artists. My most wonderful mentor was (the late Janesville artist) Marilyn Keating.

15. Along with being an artist, you’re a longtime cosmetologist. How does being good at one thing benefit the other? I have been so blessed to have a job that I love. Being a cosmetologist, I work with all the art principles every day—form, design, texture and color. The color chart is the same whether you color hair or paper. The people I work with are my best friends, and so are my clients. I love the interaction with people.

16. Why are art classes so important for school-aged kids? In this world of technology, children need the arts more than ever. We need people who are inventive and creative. We need people that think outside the box. All of the arts are so important—music, dance, theater, literature; they keep us human. We need people who have learned to think for themselves.

17. In your opinion, does aging have any effect on creativity? Painting is problem-solving. You must constantly be thinking of a new or different way to let viewers see what you want them to see. As we age, this is very good brain stimulation and activity. This also keeps us abreast of new and innovative ideas.

18. Are you a Facebook/Twitter/Instragram person, or do you avoid social media altogether? I am not a big social media fan, even though I know it’s a good way to connect with people. Frankly, I am tired of all the negativity about everything.

19. Are you more of an introvert or extrovert? I think I am a bit of both. I enjoy people and love to interact with them, but I also need much alone time.

20. Are there any artistic avenues you have not yet explored but would like to? I love music and play a little guitar and ukulele. Singing and playing is always fun. I wish I would have started earlier in life. I also think about doing something in theater, but I am sure I will not have enough life to do all that I would like to do. But I try to pack in as much as possible. Life is a great adventure.