The end of an era: Barnworks to shutter its doors

Sharon Munger started Barnworks 30 years ago. She says it’s time to end the long-running art collective.  - Michele AnneLouise Cohen Photo
Sharon Munger started Barnworks 30 years ago. She says it’s time to end the long-running art collective.
— image credit: Michele AnneLouise Cohen Photo

Down a gravel driveway off Cove Road sits a bucolic property that has long been the site of one of Vashon’s loveliest art spots — an exhibition space housed in a simple, yet elegant barn, nestled amid towering firs.

Large outdoor sculptures grace the manicured grounds in front of the barn, and next to it sits a converted chicken coop, filled with smaller craft objects, including pottery, soap, cards and jewelry. Inside the rustic but well-lit barn, bright pastels, watercolors and other vibrant paintings line the walls.

The name of the complex, appropriately enough, is Barnworks — a collaborative gallery that has  been a fixture on the Vashon art scene for decades. The barn has also been the site of monthly critique sessions for its members, as well as a host of other events including weddings, workshops and artists’ retreats. Each year, quilters have gathered in the space to stitch together Vashon Allied Arts’ community quilt.

But nothing lasts forever, it seems, because Barnworks is about to open its next-to-last exhibition this weekend, claiming its time-honored slot on the spring Vashon Island Art Studio Tour, a twice-yearly event that Barnworks helped to birth 30 years ago.

Local artist Sharon Munger, who owns and lives on the property where Barnworks sits, has decided to shutter the space at the end of 2012, after the winter edition of the art studio tour. After that, the barn will revert to her own private use, she said.

“It was my decision,” said Munger, as she took time out from preparing for the spring tour. “You realize it’s time. We want to go out while we’re still in a good mood and in good shape.”

Munger, whose white hair contrasts with her remarkably unlined face, has long been considered one of the guiding lights of the art scene on Vashon. In a recent column in The Beachcomber, Island artist Christine Beck called Munger “the Gertrude Stein of Vashon,” noting that Barnworks was the first Island “salon” to invite artistic appreciation and conversation.”

Jayne Quig, a painter who has been a member of Barnworks for decades, also credits Munger for nurturing a generation of artists on Vashon.

“It’s been great to get together with other artists and share ideas, and we owe it all to Sharon,” Quig said. “She is the pillar.”

Indeed, a roster of Barnworks’ past and present members reads like a who’s who of Vashon’s art establishment — painters who helped to create the image of Vashon as a haven for artists, starting back in the late 1960s.

Current members include Jerry Balcom, Rose Belknap, Donna Botten, Mary Hodgins, Dayl Holst, Munger, Geri Peterson, Jayne Quig, Harmut and Ilse Reimnitz, Jon-Eric Schafer and Janice Wall.

All, except Wall and Holst, will have work featured in Barnworks’ spring studio tour show, but in a nod to the passing of time as well as the gallery’s imminent closure, past members have also been invited to contribute a painting to the show.

This group includes such well-known names as Debi Crawford, Brian Fisher, Darsie Beck, Barbara Henderson, Bill Knox, Ina Whitlock, Mary Macopia, Paul Mimier, Janice Campbell, Kathy Johnson, Jacqui Lown and Gretchen Hancock. There were also be works on display by members who are now deceased —  Mary Bagley, Phyllis Hubbard and Gus Swanberg.

Sculptors have always been guest stars at each Barnworks’ show, and this time will be no different, with a display of outdoor works by Al Bradley, Gunter Reimnitz,  Dewayne Hoyt, David Erue, Penny Grist, Dean Hanmer, Mike Urban, Steve Zartman and Gus Schairer.

For Munger, it’s a chance to look back at what Barnworks has meant to her personally, and how it all began.

“When somebody said to me, ‘I bet this has just been your dream,’ I said, ‘absolutely not,’” she said.

Rather, she described a process of how Barnworks evolved from her interests, passions and deep connections with other artists.

Munger moved to Vashon in 1967 with her then-husband (she has since divorced) and raised her two children, Rochelle and Josh Munger, in a farmhouse on the Barnworks property.

The barn was an open-sided pole structure when Munger arrived, but she soon finished it off and started to put it to good use.

Along with two other artists, Joan Fulton and Nancy Scott Winker, Munger first created batik works in the barn, which she then sold at art fairs. She also worked as an art teacher at Vashon High School and networked widely in the Island’s wider art community. A 20-year second career as a United Parcel Service driver on the Island began for Munger when a UPS driver, delivering art supplies to her house, mentioned that there were job openings with the company.

All the while, as Munger worked to support her family, she continued to make art, and the membership of Barnworks continued to grow.

Rose Belknap, a Barnworks member for the past five years, said that the gallery has had such a special place in Vashon’s art scene that it won’t be easily replicated.

“The unique thing about Barnworks is you can see so many artists at once,” Belknap said. “I don’t see that anywhere else. But it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Maybe with Barnworks closing, another door will open.”

Belknap also believes that Barnworks’ current members, including Munger, will go on to find other exhibition spaces, perhaps together.

“The artistic spontaneity will go on,” she said. “We’ll show again together. It’s just time to close those doors for Sharon. She’s done enough.”


Barnworks, located at 12122 SW Cove Road, will host an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 4, to celebrate its participation in the spring Vashon Island Art Studio Tour running May 5, 6, 12 and 13. For more information about the studio tour, see page 13.


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