Barb Brooke Davis
Vintage Textile Artist
by Rachel Perry
Barb Brooke Davis has experienced the twists and turns of a varied life, but there have always been consistent threads—sewing and fishing. “All the time throughout my life I was always sewing,” she said. Beginning with plaid wool at age twelve, she fashioned shirts for her father. “Plaid is the hardest thing to sew,” she laughed. “To get it to match up.”
Growing up in Anderson, Indiana, Barb was the youngest of three children. “We always went to a lake in Michigan and the whole family fished,” she remembered. After High School, Barb attended Ball State University in Muncie for a year and a half before marrying a “hippy musician” who was a drummer. “I joined him in Virginia Beach until he got out of the Navy, then I returned to Ball State and finished a degree in home economics and got a teaching degree,” she said. The couple traveled with a band before settling in Bloomington.
Life changes brought about a divorce and Barb’s employment in a fabric store in Indianapolis. While there, she took textile classes at the Indianapolis Art League and became acquainted with other textile artists. “In 1978 or 1979 I got into the Broadripple Art Fair. There were only a few people who did things with fabric then,” she recalled.
Although making fabric creations (other than clothing) used to be considered more of a craft, art critics’ definition of fine art has changed in the past twenty years. Many contemporary artists now use fabric or textiles as their medium to create abstract and representational artwork. The innovative and complex techniques have evolved into a uniquely creative aesthetic, leaving no doubt that it is fine art.
After a second marriage dissolved, Barb moved to Brown County with her daughter, Elizabeth, in the early 1980s. Still sewing, she opened a retail store called the Fabric Addict. Appliqued pillows, textile wall art, batik and other finished fabric products created by many of her friends from the Indianapolis Art League sold well to the Nashville shoppers.
Some time during this phase, a man named Joe Davis appeared in her life, and they were married in 1986. Joe taught Biology in Brown County High School and shares a passion for fishing. “Sometimes Joe doesn’t take me fishing with him because I out-fish him,” Barb laughed. “He doesn’t use the same lures I do.” A cast-fishing enthusiast, she admits to using “jitterbugs” as well as live crickets for bait.
Also a golfer, Joe apparently doesn’t have to worry about being out-golfed by his wife. “I’m a putter,” she said. “I figured out a long time ago that I could putt and I could walk, but I can’t do the rest of it, so why beat myself up?”
In 1992 Barb Davis became the managing partner and buyer for the Colonial Craft Shop in the Artists Colony Inn. She sold out her interest in the business in 2000 and began working on her own fabric creations in her third floor studio in the Village Green Building. “Vintage textile art is finding old fabrics, dying it, cutting it up and turning it into something else,” she explained.
Using primarily old wool, Barb uses dye and her washing machine to achieve the desired colors. “Wool has changed,” she said. “That’s why I buy old. The wool that you buy now doesn’t have the thickness or texture. Really thick ‘boiled wool’ or felted wool doesn’t exist today. True boiled wool started with the fibers off the sheep. It was not woven but matted itself together.” She encourages anyone interested in donating old wool clothing or blankets to get in touch with her.
Barb Davis’ studio is a cacophony of bins overflowing with colors and materials. Hanging from the walls are “theme” stockings, abstract and representational art pillows and hanging textiles. Many of her designs include “found objects” like pins and small toys to enhance the subject of the piece. “Taking classes with nearby artist Dixie Ferrer (also in the Village Green Building) has really helped me to think ‘outside the box,’” Barb declared.
One of the more traditional pieces among the materials is a quilt top she put together for Pioneer Days at Van Buren School. It alternates solid colored blocks, each containing a student’s name, with squares of an old fashioned print. She looked at it ruefully. “I told the kids that winter is the time to do your quilting—I’d better get moving on it!”
Hanging on one wall is a large fish created from strips of colored fabric and embellished with layered yarns and threads. Barb hopes to have the piece accepted into an exhibit with a fish theme at Gallery North in Bloomington. But it looks perfectly at home at Brooke Davis Designs, where it embodies the artist’s two life-long pursuits. “I solve the problems of the world when I fish,” Barb chuckled. And recycling old wool into fine art solves at least one of them.
To reach Barb Davis call 812-360-0478 or e-mail her at <email@example.com>. You can find her creations in Nashville at the Lexington House and Honeysuckle House.