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Barnes, Sylvia | Saint Mary's College Archives

Name: Barnes, Sylvia
Fuller Form: Sylvia Rogers Barnes

Historical Note:

Statement by the artist re the origin of the paintings in the lobby of McKeon pavilion / Rahill Gymnasium:

In the mid 70's I was living in the Walnut Creek, Concord, Pleasant Hill areas a few years after I finished my studies at a small art academy in San Francisco, owned and directed  by internationally known pastel artist of that time, Thomas Leighton..  I was over 40, newly divorced with still one of 4 teenagers living with me. Times were tough for me as a late-blooming portrait artist with no other skills to face a future in the workplace.  I had a few small successful commissions but mostly, I supplemented my income by teaching portrait, still-life and floral painting in the local art centers sponsored by the Contra Costa Recreational Department and School System.  I had received a lifetime teaching credential from Hayward State University under their work experience program and this enabled me to teach in certain local institutions. For a few years, I  shared a small studio with 2 other artists in the Old Firehouse building on Concord Blvd. in Concord. One was Loran Speck who is today one of the foremost Trompe L'oeil painters in the country and Harley Nobles, now deceased,  who was successful as a Western painter in the Reno, Lake Tahoe region.

On Sundays I did live portraits in the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Concord on Willow Pass Road.  Those activities and doing lectures in various venue in the area gave me more disposable income and much more experience to perfect my craft.

After a while, from some of the money I received from the sale of my house after the divorce, my daughter and I were able to travel to Europe and across this country where I absorbed much technique and inspiration from the master painters in the many museums we visited.

After my daughter had graduated from high school and started living with her father for awhile, I had more time to pursue self-directed studies of art history with experts whose work I found stimulating. I was also involved with several art clubs where shows and exhibitions gave me an opportunity to market my work and meet many future contacts. I won many 1st class awards in many top-flight shows including The Rosicrucian show in San Jose and Hall of Flowers shows in San Francisco. From viewing my work in one of the artists shows in the area,  I received a commission from the Sobral family in Lafayette to do a portrait of Christian Brother Albert Rahill,  a delightful man of great humility,dignity and humor. Antonio A Sobral and Dr. Carlos A Sobral were brothers and students who had graduated from St. Mary's.  I later did a portrait of Mrs. Sobral, the boys mother.

Brother Rahill graciously received me and I did some photographic studies in one of the rooms at the College.  I met several of the Christian Brothers but a name that stands out is Brother Timothy.  I Don't recall his last name but he and other people  were kind and courteous hosts during my association with St. Mary's. I was present at the unveiling of the portrait on the occasion of St. Mary's '79. homecoming event.  There was an article in the local paper about it. One of the things that stood out during the speech at the unveiling was that the Moraga's St.Mary's was the only school at that time  that was functioning in the "black" which I thought was a tribute to St. Mary's many Catholic supporters in the area.

After a time, I was again contacted by the college commissioning me to do another large portrait. The subject was to be George McKeon who the Pavilion was named after. It was to be the same size as the Rahill portrait and would be framed the same.  I remember being invited by Brother Rahill to travel with him and another woman from the college whose name I cannot recall (sorry) to Hillsboro, south of San Francisco.  We were to have lunch with Mr. Mckeon's widow (who had since remarried)  She had a photograph for me that I was to use as reference for the posthumous painting.  I was fascinated by this beautiful, lavish home and garden in one of the most prestigious communities in the US. We had lunch in the grand dining room in a setting of fabulous Asian artifacts and antiques. We were served by a butler and kitchen maid and needless to say I was impressed by our gracious hostess and the opulent ambiance. I was very ill the day I was to be present at the unveiling of this painting so I regret, I could not attend.  I go to visit the paintings in the Pavilion whenever I am in that area and I remember how much I enjoyed getting these commissions.

As time passed, my work found me living in Monterey for 12 years and working as staff portrait painter at a popular Gallery and Studio on Cannery Row called "Faces West". We did a lot of live sittings there, mostly in pastel, 6 days and nights a week and our subjects came into our studio from literally all over the world. When we weren't doing life sittings, we did a lot of portraits from photographs submitted my our clients.  Some of them were celebrity photos and many were of Clint Eastwood who was Mayor of Carmel at that time.  I can't tell you how many times my paintings of Mr. Eastwood paid my rent.  During my residence there I received a commission from the US Department of the Army to do the official portrait of our then Secretary of the Army, John O. Marsh Jr. who served under President Reagan.  After the unveiling in 1990, I was told by Mrs. Marsh that I was the first woman artist ever to be commissioned for the Army's gallery at the Pentagon since the George Washington's administration.

In 1992,after the gallery closed, for my own health reasons and to be near some of my family, I returned to the Walnut Creek area and continued to teach and do more CD and album cover art portraits for Concord Jazz Records.  I was associated with them for over 20 years and had done many jazz greats during that time including Rosemary Clooney, Ray Brown, Stan Getz and Woody Herman to name a few.  For collectors, I was using my married name, Sylvia Rogers Barnes on some of the work.  When Mr. Jefferson, the owner passed away, the company was sold and moved to Los Angeles.  I was never called upon for further work after that

After heart surgery in 1994, I had no health insurance and was forced to move to another affordable area and seek other employment to sustain myself.  I lived and worked in Stockton and Lodi, managing apartments until 1998.  During that time I found it necessary to file for bankruptcy.  All at once I started to get portrait commissions from Delta College.  My life turned once again to eating "chicken" instead of "feathers".  I had accomplished oil portraits of 8 past presidents of Delta College as well as the founder of Atherton Theatre.  I also did a portrait of Gary Podesto, Mayor of Stockton as well as posthumus portraits of executives in government offices in the city.

In 1998, I had disposable income and moved to Penn Valley where I invested in a remodel on another daughter and son-in-law's property and where I still reside on 5 acres in the countryside.

The commissions from St. Mary's college is notable in that I realized that in spite of the fact that I was involved doing art 20 years too late, acknowleging a lack of a fancy "pedigree" from any institution of higher learning, my skills could take me to places beyond my wildest dreams for as long as I could paint.

When life gave me lemons, I tried to make lemon aid.  I look forward to another decade of creating art wherever there is a need or a desire for what I have to offer.  It has been my privilege to serve. Thank you for your interest.

Sources: Email from Sylvia Rogers per request from MJC
Note Author: Sylvia Rogers

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