In Memory of David Barr

In 2013 David Barr and Beth Dwaihy-Barr were honored by Michigan Legacy Art Park with the Legacy Award for their strong commitment to the arts. David’s career as an artist, instructor, author and global thinker crossed borders around the world, bringing people and ideas together. The love of his life, Beth, was David’s companion and inspiration throughout his career. As a professional dancer and instructor of dance, Beth touched the lives of many through her art.


The man who brought his expansive artistic vision to Michigan and the world died peacefully Aug. 28 at the age of 75. Described as dedicated, generous, and giving of his own knowledge, David Barr founded Michigan Legacy Art Park in 1995.

He was preceeded in death by his beloved wife and artistic collaborator, Beth Dwaihy-Barr, in December of 2013. We will be forever grateful for David, his legacy, vision and the enduring gifts he gave us all – his prolific body of work, the many books he authored and Michigan Legacy Art Park.

The family suggests memorial donations be made to Michigan Legacy Art Park. Donations will support the new David Barr Endowed Chair for Artistic Direction. Donations are accepted online.

Or by mail: Michigan Legacy Art Park, 12500 Crystal Mountain Drive, Thompsonville, MI 49683

Villa Barr September 12, 2015

The memorial for David Barr, held at Villa Barr in Novi, MI September 12, was an opportunity for friends and family to share their memories and reflections.

Below are several of the speeches given that day in memory of David, with an introduction by MLAP Executive Director Renee Hintz.

David’s memorial was perfect – simple, thoughtful, meaningful and full of emotion. We laughed and cried along with his daughters, nephews, niece, and friends who spoke – it was just as he would have wanted it. The setting at Villa Barr allowed everyone at their own pace to meander through the property, appreciating his artwork, home and grounds – a perfect way to pay our respects, shake off the tears, and be in awe of all David stood for and was.

Donations to the Art Park were encouraged by his family. I’ve asked all who spoke at the memorial to send me their eulogies so that we can add them to this page and share them with those who weren’t able to attend. All in all it was a beautiful way for family and friends to come together in honor of David. He is missed.

Sincerely,
Renee Hintz


By Heather Adamczyk

Thank you all for joining us to celebrate and remember David Barr. Most of you know him as: an Artist, Teacher, Author, Mentor, Friend – but my sister Gillian and I knew him as our Dad.

Everyone who knew him saw his passion – for Art, for the Earth, for Peace and for People, this intensity could be wonderful with his fierce devotion & love for you or on occasion had a distant, less than engaged relationship. There was little middle ground, but you knew you were loved. My sister and I experienced both, as most father/daughter relationships experience through 53 years. Our childhood was not always carefree, but we have some wonderful memories, and most of them were created by Dad. We loved him dearly through it all and are grateful for being his daughters.

He was only 22 when I was born, our parents were living in low income housing near Wayne, both students -and my Dad worked hard to provide for us – teaching Arts & crafts at Fort Wayne and getting his Masters, so he could eventually teach at Macomb. We have home movies of me playing with crumpled up newspapers & wood blocks he made for me, smiling contently.

We moved to a tiny house in Oak Park, when Gillian was born & Dad was gone long days and nights working in his studio, above Checker bbq in Detroit, until he converted our garage into his studio, where we could look out thru the kitchen window late into the night and see him working.

The time that he was able to spend with us was few but he made them meaningful – when MLK died, we made kites out of black paper and went to Kensington & flew them quietly.

He would invite us into the studio to paint, eat pretzels & drink coke out of his old coke vending machine.

He taught me how to use the 8mm camera so I could make movies of my friends, then we would invite them over for a ‘movie night’ and I would charge them a quarter to watch themselves (popcorn included of course!)

We loved taking road trips: to Point Pelee with a stop to have fresh corn on the cob, to Cincinatti to be with our dear Aunt Robin (his beloved sister) & cousins, and to Chicago to visit the Booth family – we had our standard stops for ice cream & pinball & go carts.

He took over coaching my girls’ softball team, when he couldn’t take how ‘incompetent’ the teen male coach was and we spent hours at Oak Park Park watching his softball games and taking turns being the ‘bat girl’.

Dinner out was a big treat, usually Como’s pizza in Ferndale (he knew which nights his favorite chef worked) or Hunter House in Birmingham for hamburgers or the Northland Coney Island… food was often involved in our outings.

When I was 10 and Gill was 5 we went to Europe for 3 weeks, besides all of the incredible adventures we had – my favorite memory was my Dad waking us up early in the morning, telling us not to wake our mom up, so we could sneak down to the pastry shops & eat all the sweets for breakfast & of course she saw our faces covered in whip cream & chocolate upon our return…

He took us to Little Professors book store weekly & dropped us off at the library whenever we wanted – staying for hours where we developed our love for books from him and our Grandma who was a librarian.

Most of you know that after his massive stroke, he made the decision to not fight the battle of recovery, he chose to enter hospice. This was very painful for us to accept and watch, but I am proud that we allowed him to make his own choice and he was grateful. I wanted him to be able to die in his own home, where he had his best memories with his beloved Beth – the house he built, but it became rapidly apparent that we couldn’t manage his illness or pain without 24 hr nursing.

His last spoonful of food (before the nurses said to stop) was chocolate, chocolate chip ice cream – fed to him by his granddaughter Abby, and even though he was in extreme discomfort he asked her for chocolate sauce on top – we couldn’t find any and I told dad this – to which he replied’ in the back of the pantry, top shelf in the way back’…which I did find later when cleaning it out…safely hidden away…

When we loaded him into the ambulance he thanked us for letting him have a week to be home – he was at peace and he said a sad good bye to his beautiful home. He lapsed quickly into a coma but not before saying good bye to a few more precious friends & family, the last sentence he said to Gill and I was “I’m going to have a good sleep” and that’s what he did.


By Jim Pallas, read at the memorial by Heather Adamczyk

I’m Jim Pallas. I’ve been in regular contact with David since we started teaching together. We shared a small office for over 38 years. David recently observed that I have known him longer than any other living being.

Before I tell relate this phone call I got from him a few years ago, you need to know a little about his Magnum Opus, the Four Corners Project. In it, David created the largest Sculpture in the world, literally, by going to four very specific points on the earth and burying small stone tetrahedrons at each in such an orientation that they form the four apexes of a huge tetrahedron whose sides are 6464 miles long within the earth. Please know that these four points are chosen by strict mathematical calculation with no regard or knowledge of what lies at the actual place. One of the tetrahedrons is in South Africa, near small town called Reivilo. Using an ancient, but very accurate British artillery map, David meandered down back roads until he came close to the point and found himself standing in front of a small farm house. He knocked on the door. It was answered by middle aged man, a Boer farmer. David explained who he is, that he wants to place this small stone in the man’s cow pasture and why. The farmer looks at David like he’s insane, asks a few questions, and, “grinning from ear to ear with disbelief,” he freely granted David permission. While David, Beth and his 13 year old daughter, Gillian, planted the stone in the field and performed the ritual, the farmer and his wife called their friends and neighbors, including the mayor of Reivilo to meet the “art extraterrestrials” from America. And they all had a wonderful lunch.

“David’s on the phone.” my wife Janet said over the intercom. I set down the old computer I was dissecting.

I said, “David! It’s good to hear your voice. How are you? How’s Bethy?”

“I’m Ok. Beth’s sleeping. She’s in another round of chemo. I wanted to share something since you were involved in the four corners project. But first I wanted to say thanks for your part in the Legacy Art Park Film, for making the award they gave me and for supporting the park from the beginning.

“Anyway, the story.

“My granddaughter, Heather’s daughter, Adrian, just called me. She’s in Africa. She tells me she’s standing at the corner in South Africa.”

I said, “What corner? The Four Corners corner? She’s there on her phone? RIGHT NOW? On the spot in the field behind the South African farmer’s house?”

“Yes! Exactly. It was a surprise to me too. I didn’t know any of my grandkids had much interest in what I do.”

I said, “Of course not. None of our grand kids do. We’re old.”

“Adrian visited me before she left. When she told me she was going to Africa with her class, I gave her some money and told her what I did there,” he said.

I asked, “Did she want to hear it?”

He said, “I told her the story comes with the money. She listened politely and I thought no more of it.”

He went on, “But apparently, she told her classmates and her teacher about it. They got excited about it and decided to go to the spot.”

“Now it’s been 50 years! The farmer, the mayor of the town. Everybody’s dead. But I told her about the farm and going there, their names and the town. I said maybe you could look them up in a phone book.”

“Beth laughed and said, “Kids don’t need a book, David. They’ve got their phones!”

“So they all went to the farm and the old man is dead, but his son has the farm and speaks English. He was only 15 years old when I was there. I remember him and taught him a hand shake. You know, the Black Power handshake. I thought it was ironic at the time, you know, with apartheid and all. He told Adrian that he and his dad went out after I left and found where I put the corner. His Dad wanted to put up a flag.

“You know, Jim, I wouldn’t have wanted that.”

I was acquainted David in college. We both were art students. He hung out with the industrial design guys in the basement but I was up on the third floor in fine art. In 1965, we both were hired to teach at Macomb Community College and we both soon had serious issues with our supervisor. It became apparent that we were scheduled for dismissal at semester’s end. David and I formed an explicit alliance to remove him. Over several months we documented his abhorrent practices and policies. We prevailed and, in the process, came to know and like each other. So much so, in fact, that rumors spread that we were gay. It was the ’60s.

What to say about David?

David was intelligent. His skill at chess served us well as we maneuvered against our administrative adversaries. He was often thinking many moves ahead.

David was knowledgeable. He read widely, listened to a wide range of music, saw and remembered every film worth watching. For information, he had a mind like a hard drive with impressive recall for facts, names, dates and titles.

David could be tough. In high school, he showed up for basketball tryouts but the coach would not allow him on the court. He said he was too short to even try. After the varsity team was selected, David partnered with another student who also did not make the team. After several practices, they quietly challenged the various eight varsity players to games of two – on – two. David and his friend won all the games. They beat all the varsity team. When the coach got wind of this, he told David that he should try out for the team. David said, “I’m too short.”

David was an athlete. When David proposed Arctic Arc, his project that celebrated the questing spirit of mankind by installing symbolic sculptures on both sides of the Bering Straits. Some said, “David, You’re crazy. The Russians will never let you go there. It’s a no fly zone. The Russians had shot down a Korean commercial flight that veered off course there.” David said,” We will keep asking until they relent.” And, amazingly, as we made the request, Gorbachev came in to power. The project had no political component, no connection to any corporation or institution. Nothing about U.S. or U.S.S.R culture, and, like all of David’ geo-Structurist projects was paid for by David. As with the Four Corners Project, Senator Carl Levin personally vouched for us, that we were only what we appeared to be, artists. Arctic Arc ideal as a demonstration of Glasnost.

So we found ourselves in the industrial city of Providenya, Russia Far East, among welcoming people who hungered for contact with westerners. When our group was invited by the local basketball team to a match, we tried to beg off, saying, “We are old and decrepit and would embarrass ourselves playing young, vigorous men like you.” They insisted and promised they would go easy on us and not embarrass us and there would be no spectators. We relented and, wearing street clothes, met them at the town’s gymnasium. David called us to huddle and said, try hard to get possession and then pass or dibble it down court as far as you can and then get it to me. We did, and David, overweight and out of breath, standing under the hoop, would take the pass and, with the grace and nimbleness of a dancing rhinoceros, head fake, take a few steps and execute a marvelous goal. Hook shots, swish! fade aways, swish! rainbows, swish! He threw everything but dunks. David won the game. The poor Russian team was flabbergasted but soon recovered, and with good humor and untranslated jibes and jokes, we all went to the bar and drank vodka.

David was Industrious. He worked harder, with more intelligence and effect, than anyone I ever knew. He traded art for bold house plans from his friend, the great Chicago architect, Larry Booth. He then, essentially single handedly, cleared the site and built what has become Villa Barr. Building his house while living in it, no furnace, no water, no plumbing, and recently divorced from Barbara, his first wife, separated from his daughters, it was a dark winter for David. He fought depression. He confessed to me that he had always felt a wound in his heart. In spring, he dug the hole that turned a small swamp into a beautiful pond. For all the years he lived there, he laid up stone walls. He installed walks and patios. He planted trees, hundreds of them. At the same time, He planted dozens of his beautiful sculptures.

I could go on.

David was generous. He was a soft touch for anyone fallen on hard times. He helped countless students, finding them jobs, hiring them himself and paying them more than he had to. He sold his house and grounds to the City of Novi at a charitable price and donated several major sculptures too.

David was a writer of great power and versatility: I recommend his “Crossing Borders” for a comprehensive and moving account of this Geo-Structuralists artworks, “Villa Barr” as a moving memoir and “Fragments” for stories about artists in Detroit including the hilarious “Chats with Vito.”

David was quick-witted: When He received his Michigan Arts Council Award in the 1970s, standing for publicity photos with Helen Miliken, the governor’s wife, she said, “Pretend we are talking.” David replied, “It seems we actually are.”

But most importantly David was an artist. It was his reason for being. In today’s crazy art world, with gallerists, P.R. flaks and auctioneers hyping the latest sensation, absurd amounts of money is the subject. David was never interested in money. Though he never complained, he never had a gallery that properly represented him. Without that, it takes time for truly profound work to be discovered. There is no doubt in my mind that David’s art will continue to rise long after we all are gone. Furthermore, I believe his Four Corners Project will become a textbook example of conceptual art. The mathematical process of determining the points, the collaboration with mathematician Arlinghouse and geographer Nuystum, the act of going to those locations and performing a ritual, is an ethereal artwork. That and the four small marble tetrahedrons placed in obscure locations coalesce in the mind of the “beholder” to form a beautiful art experience. Like any great work of art the more one knows about it, the places, the people, the incidences and stories, the richer it becomes.

David Barr was a protean genius.


By Jim Manganello

David’s trick

David the sculptor. David the philosopher. David the filmmaker. David the film critic. David the poet. David the essayist. David the novelist. David the landscaper. David the mentor. David the son. David the father. David the grandfather. David the uncle. David the lover. David the gourmet. Which one do we want to talk about?

There is one other David I want to share with you. It’s the first David I really knew. I met him in the living room of 22600 Napier Road. I met him in front of a pack of two- to twelve-year-olds like myself, drooling and soiled and free. Until then, I knew vaguely that David was my uncle, or more precisely, my competitor for the attention of that gorgeous bandana-ed woman with a voice like bedsheets and a Santa Claus sack full of toys. The David I discovered that day carried a wand and a fake moustache. David the magician.

David the magician had an elegant metal ball that—when put under a satin handkerchief—could fly in midair. And so it was David the magician—and not David the atheist—who taught me how to be skeptical. “Why do you need the handkerchief?” I mulled darkly.
David the magician held a glass of milk on one side of the room and when a child on the other side of the room slurped through a straw, the milk drained from the glass before our very eyes. Milk—a beverage that David would only consume in this mystical, arms-length fashion. Unlike the ball, the milk trick I couldn’t figure out. “I wanna know how to do that,” I said. And so David the magician also taught me how to spy. When the adults were stuffed and snoozing, I snuck into the loft and found the goods. If you think I’m going to reveal the trick, you’re nuts—David taught me that too.

Since David’s death, I’ve realized how closely I associate David with specific places. A hilltop in Tuscany. The Niagara peninsula in Ontario. A stone quarry in Vermont. The art park up north. And of course, this house and its heavenly gardens—where I think all of us children learned what sin is. It makes sense that David would be attached to concrete places. After all, he was a man of stone and steel. But I spy here another magic trick—a classic technique: misdirection.

Here’s my case. I was with David in one of those David places—the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, Italy, where Michaelangelo’s sculpture of a rather more fit David stands. As we approached the nude David, the clothed David next to me whispered, “It’s blasphemous, but I prefer the slaves.” He was talking about the unfinished set of sculptures which line the hall leading up to the main attraction. The slaves are extraordinary. Blocks of unrefined marble with bodies writhing, reaching, screaming their way out. They too are magical. “I wanna know how to do that.”

There’s a famous anecdote about Michaelangelo. It’s said that he claimed that he could look at a raw block of quarried rock and see exactly the body that hewould chisel out. This story is usually told to epitomize the arrogance of Western civilization. The conquest of man over nature. The exceptionalism of the artistic soul. And when you look at the David statue, it’s hard to deny that interpretation, so triumphant are his hands, so confident his neck. But if you look at the slaves, it’s possible to hear Michaelangelo’s quote not as boasting, but as humility. It’s not that he could mark out exactly where the finger would be, exactly the turn of the knee. Instead, the form inside calls out. The true artist listens and serves. He assists the body’s appearance—another magic trick.

I think our David was that kind of artist and that kind of man. His art is heavy and huge and hard to move. But it’s also dancing and invisible and magical. It’s a trick of the eye in a forest. It flies over the ocean. Like Michaelangelo’s slaves, David’s forms are stuck in time and place and also moving across tundras and centuries.

When I was in the second grade, David and I built a big magic box, which he painted a peaceful robin’s-egg blue, over which I painted gaudy fuchsia stars and other pagan symbols. We brought the box to Maire Elementary School and before my entire class, I made my best friend Eric disappear. “He’s behind the door!” screamed a child who David called clever and who Beth, til her dying day, described as snot-nosed, green-faced, and fat.

Just yesterday, before I told her that I’d be speaking about David the magician, Rachel—my Grandmother and David’s late-in-life confidant—produced an essay of David’s in draft form. It’s called “Magic (1949)”—David’s titles always tilted toward the filmic. The essay’s last line goes like this: “The greatest magic of all is the magic of empathy, of its compassionate actions of sacrifice, the sacred magic of love.”

Now, like my friend Eric, David has disappeared. His last magic trick. Not without complications and conflicts, but he pulled it off. He’s not telling us the secret. I wanna know how to do that. But not just yet.


By Gabriele Abowd Damico

The first time I met Uncle David, it was Thanksgiving Day in Toledo, Ohio at my parents’ home; I was 6 years old. I found David sitting on the piano bench, facing out toward the room. As I walked by, looking him over, he said hello. I didn’t know exactly who he was, but I knew he had arrived with Aunt Bethy, so that made him good in my book. Before long I went over to him and we talked. He asked me about myself. I told him about my ballet classes, and he asked if I wanted to show him some of what I’d learned. I think I did a little pirouette. He probably then told me a story about dance or movement or something related. And we were off!

That first conversation had all of the hallmarks of what made David such a treasured uncle, friend, and mentor to me over the last 35 years: being present and open, but not pushing for a relationship; asking relevant questions; listening and showing interest in things important to me. And then sharing something he knew, which related to my interest. From art, to film, to travel, to relationships—oh relationships!—we had a lot to discuss.

He never talked down to me, even when I was a child. He shared what he knew so freely, and the door was open for me to do the same.


By Rick and Linda Solomon, read at the memorial by their daughter, Onna Solomon

Eulogy for David (and Beth) Barr. Dedicated to Heather and Gillian)

“Artists express the shifting sensibilities of the cultures and timelines that reflect the innermost values of the population.”

—David Barr

After someone you love is gone there’s a part of your mind that forgets and you think to call them and make plans. And then you remember: They’re gone! Rick and I have been having moments like this repeatedly, as Rick likes to say ‘tears right behind our eyes.’ It’s the saddest feeling when you realize you will never make plans with them again, never see the again, never hug them. Never eat kibbe at Le George, or call David in the middle of the week to talk about the idiocy of American politics or the latest book he’s working on. Instead we will always remember calling him on a Wednesday evening as usual and him answering in a garbled voice: “I’m in the hospital. I had a stroke.”

Rick wrote this poem spontaneously for David soon after the stroke called:

The Art of Love

Linda and I are sitting on the back porch,

The leaves dead still, the cicadas crying,

Talking about you dying by force of will—

Your Venus, Beth, gone now 2 years

Your body a shadow of itself—

In the house you built

By the old man pond you created

Surrounded by your living constructions.

You have created so much beauty!

Lover, mentor, friend—the art of love.

Your Venus right where we can see her

With her 2 big tits on the obelisk

Overlooking the Huron. Linda said

I’m going to miss him so much.

I said That Venus will last forever.

This is what we feel for you.

A love that will be with us

Forever.

There is a Jewish prayer for the dying about taking the best qualities of someone you love into yourself in order to keep them alive in you. So David and Beth are still alive inside of us. Rick said that as he was writing, Beth kept coming to mind so we would like to include Beth in this eulogy. I know David would approve because she was the Villa to his Barr and he was the Four Corners to her Earth. She was the dance in his sculpture and he was the warp in her weft. I told Rick not to get too carried away. But that didn’t stop him.

There are some people you know for your whole life that never really change who you are and then there are people, like David and Beth, who you meet for a relatively short time and they change your life immediately and forever. We were privileged to know David and Beth in the fall and winter of their lives, a late life friendship, when they had ripened beautifully and were ready to eat. The couplets below are a taste of David and Beth, juice running down our chins.

David taught us to engage in life fearlessly and seriously
Beth taught us to engage in love fearlessly and seriously

Which made them both such great teachers and mentors.

David taught us not to care about what others think in order to create fearlessly. He was the most creative person we have ever met. Beth taught us to only care about what others think and she taught us to live in love and was the most loving person we ever met.

Because he could not sculpt, he wrote, and man could he articulate his world. Rick and I got a tour of Detroit from a long time native who was showing us the Heidelberg Art Project. When we mentioned David Barr he said, impressed, “You know David Barr? He was an intellect.” David wrote faster than we could read. From his paean to Beth; to the 2 Solar novels on art and the art world; to his erotica (both pornographic and sensitive); to his essays on art and his memories of earlier life.

For David art and the artist were the center of a world that had become barbaric. He wrote in Sieve: “The price of our creativity is our capacity for destruction.” And “The capacity for art equals the capacity for despair.” He said commenting on Mondrian and the evolution of art “Once there was one approved and consigned interpretation, now there are infinite personal points of view.” He was an intellect!

He was full of wonder
She was full of wonderful

They nurtured the creative in the younger generation
And the younger generation venerated them

David’s sculptures created relationships between the universe and humans
Beth’s love, dance, and creative giving grounded David in relationship

She believed in life everlasting
He believed life was an accidental miracle.

They both understood that there was a reality behind appearances.
Despite her illness Beth lived in grace
For David art redeemed life and as he said
‘I prefer to be heartsick rather than heartless.’
The very existence of the arts defies despair.’

But because he was in despair and could no longer create he died.
She taught us to live in love in spite of the losses
He taught us to love to live because of the losses

Beth became more inclusive
David became more reclusive

And we felt privileged to be their friends at the end of their lives
He taught me to take life seriously which made him single minded and difficult
She taught us to take love seriously which made her beloved and easy.

And so they lived authentically
And so they died authentically

And they will never be again in our lives
And they will always be again and again in our lives.


By Veronica Sanitate

A Moment with Beth and David Barr

Somewhere I have a picture of them
in Tuscany, in 2010, sitting together at a table
in a garden at Poggio Nardini, in the shade
of a villa overlooking a valley of grape
vines and olive trees. Framing the scene,
i cipressi, the cypress, that Beth so loved.

At the table, she is knitting. She knits incessantly,
keeping mind and heart occupied (Lasciate ogni
speranza — “Abandon all hope”– on a hat for Cristiano;
perfectly-fitting pink socks for Vittoria.) David looks
at and beyond her, perhaps constructing an intricate
design in his mind which he will pare down
to simple elegance, into a singular sculpture
which, though grounded in steel or stone,
will soar or float. And this will survive.

But in the picture, they are just themselves.
He sits comfortably. She looks like she stepped in
from an earlier century — classic countenance, elaborate
headscarf, flowing skirt —The Visitation by Pontormo.
Her body is erect — a tribute to her dancing self —
belying the grief that sits with them at the table.
They are already beyond themselves, yet still giving,
still soundlessly conversing. It’s just before their 28th
wedding anniversary, nearing the summer solstice.

Everything is fine in the photograph. A moment
held captive. But there, in the shadow,
an unfiltered look, an untethered gesture
hints at what will come. The light climbs
endlessly up the stone wall; marks the moment
of mid-passage in a brilliant red geranium and begins
its return cycle. This is how life is, I tell myself.
The table must sit empty when winter comes.


By Paul Manganello

My uncle David understood the world. That’s not a compliment: I mean it literally. Over the course of his life, he studied the globe; the sphere; the planet. David loved its latitudes, its rotations and waters and – supremely – its imperfections.

David gave us a thousand bits of trivia – often on repeat – about Earth. For example, how it isn’t perfectly round; how it’s smushed at the poles and swollen at the equator. He told us that if you tied a rope all the way around the planet, snug, and then added to that rope just a little segment, the whole thing would become significantly looser, and would rise well up off the surface of the Earth. This was David’s great obsession: he threw himself into global projects that celebrated the geometries and riddles of the planet.

But lucky for us, David also saw the universe in a basketball, in a fresh peach, in a scoop of gelato, and in so many stones, spirals, curves he sent orbiting through our lives. He found substance in objects we considered everyday, he found possibility in the most insignificant gesture, and radiance in people who had been the most dehumanized.

David’s globe could be a falling leaf, a bending waist, a taste of cherry.

There was one piece of globe trivia that I never heard David repeat. He only said it once and some of you might remember it.

He said that if you took a model of the planet earth – three feet in diameter – and breathed on it, the condensation from your breath would be deeper than the deepest ocean.

David, I have but one small voice with which to thank you, but my gratitude moves mountains.


By Gillian Barr

One of my earliest memories of my dad was at a birthday party. He was doing magic tricks and my childhood friends sat in a circle riveted by his every move. He poured milk from a clear pitcher into a newspaper cone and I watched the floor, sure that at any moment it would drip all over or stream down his arm. Then he shook the newspaper open and voila, no milk, applause, gasps and wonder.

He was amazing, talented and my hero.

Dad had energy that filled up a room. His hugs were solid. His stories had descriptions and lessons. He cried and laughed easily and thoroughly.

My childhood was full of adventures, art, music and challenges. I loved holding his rough callused hands with flecks of paint on the fingernails.

He shared his dreams with me and then I watched him, with drive, vision, talena nd work ethic turn them into a reality. This house, hundreds of reliefs and sculptures, the Four Corners Project, trips to about 20 countries, about 20 published books and Michigan Legacy Art Park.

Again, astounding magic.

We had some rough patches, raised voices, anger and tears over the years. Thank goodness we moved on and forgave each other. In this past year and a half I talked to him every few days. He told me a story or two and I told one back. He especially loved if Ben or Rachel had said or done something outrageous. It seemed just right to him that they had passions and strong opinions. “She gets that from me you know, Gill? That focus and feistiness. Oh good, that’s great, that will serve her well, kiddo.”

He was so proud of Heather and I, our careers and especially the way we nurtured and were raising his grandkids.

I miss his voice. I miss him waving from the top of the driveway. I held his callused wrinkled hand as often as I could those last two weeks and it was magic.


Thoughts from others expressed and collected after the memorial:

From Mike Sackey

I recently attended David Barr’s memorial. As I strolled around David’s property (Villa Barr) I’m reminded again how much this man. David Barr influenced my life & my work. For guidance I often revisit my notes and documents that I’ve saved from all of David’s classes. One of our weekly assignments in David’s drawing classes were the “self portraits”, David would say “if you can’t think of a subject to draw, look at yourself.” One of my self portrait drawings later became a painting and then it was picked by a local author for the cover of his first novel. David was a mentor and a wonderful teacher, I’ll miss him.

Comments 1

  1. Beth was my English teacher and she was so kind and generous to our family when we lived in Novi, MI. Whenever I visited Beth, I talked with David and he shared wonderful stories about his journey and his teaching philosophy. I teach Sociology at the university, and whenever I teach or write any manuscripts, I could hear their voices guiding me to write and teach. They are wonderful couple accepting everyone to be part of their wonderful and beautiful family.

    One time, I remember, when my father had some car trouble at night, we called Beth. Both David and Beth came immediately to make sure that we are all right. My daughter, Hillary, remember spending time at their home and took a nap at their beautiful house.

    My husband, Jamison, my parents (Toshio and Keiko Tanaka), my daughters (Hillary and Irene) miss David and Beth very much.

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