I've waited to post anything on Barton for a couple of weeks because I have not known what to say. Barton's death on May 30th caught me by surprise...and yet it did not. I knew he had aids...I knew he had been ill for much of the past year...and well...all people die eventually. But I guess I was just not prepared to say goodbye to someone I felt I had just met.
Before coming to ND I had no idea who Barton was, but was quickly introduced to his work by fellow students and faculty. While Barton had friends and collectors across the country no doubt, peculiarly he had a pocket of friends, admirerers, and acquaintances in the Red River Valley of North Dakota. It is through these connections that I had two opportunities to meet him. First, on our print trip to NYC in the fall of 2011, we stopped in to his apartment and studio for a few hours and chatted with him. It was such a remarkable space filled with art and artifacts that bespoke of Barton's imagination, creativity, sense of humor. He welcomed us in to his cramped home as if we were long friends.
The second visit (from which this photo was taken) spoke more to me about the man than I could have expected. Sundog Press, here at UND, did a print for Barton...a prayer rug made from stamps. It is a beautiful peice. I was headed to NYC to speak at the College Theology Society annual conference and it worked that we could meet up and I would assist Barton in signing and dividing up the prints. It was a great 3 hours or so. Not only did we snoop around his place, look at the artifacts again, see his new work, but he bought us dinner, answered my silly questions, and even discussed religion with me (I have in mind to do a paper on Barton's religious imagination some day).
I will be the first to say that I did not know Barton well. But it is strange how in the course of two short visits, this man came to impact my life in such a unique way. His sense of humor and hospitality was remarkable as was his generosity. I am truly thankful for those brief hours with him, it was the highlight of our trip to NYC, and those memories will linger on shaping my life and art practices from here on out. Thank you Barton for your courage, humor, challenging us with your work, and your gracious spirit.
For more about Barton, check out this recent article by the NY Times.