2012-14 Phi Kappa Phi Scholar and Artist Awards
By Peter Szatmary
Phi Kappa Phi Scholar and Artist Awards salute active members who demonstrate the Society’s ideals through their achievements, learnedness, and activities. Each commendation, conferred once per biennium, comes with a $1,000 honorarium; a trip to the relevant Phi Kappa Phi convention, which includes a luncheon at which the
recipients give a talk; an active-for-life membership to the Society; and a framed certificate.
The Phi Kappa Phi Scholar, established in 1974, recognizes excellence in research, teaching, and service. The
Phi Kappa Phi Artist, inaugurated in 1983, pays tribute to creative talents along with erudition and outreach. This
year’s winners are the 14th Scholar and 11th Artist singled out by the Society. They selected questions to answer
from a list submitted to them by Editor Peter Szatmary. What follows are compiled, edited excerpts.
For more of the Q & As, go online to www.phikappaphi.org/forum/winter2012.
Thomas E. Barden knows what makes a good story. The University of Toledo
English professor specializes in American folklore and oral tradition. His early
scholarship includes coediting Weevils in the Wheat: Interviews with Virginia
Ex-Slaves (Indiana University Press, 1980). He also edited Steinbeck in Vietnam:
Dispatches from the War, missives for Newsday by the writer, published earlier this
year by University of Virginia Press. One of Barden’s six books, Virginia Folk Legends
(University of Virginia Press, 1991), is in its ninth edition.
It won his school’s Outstanding
Faculty Research Award. Other
campus recognition for Barden: the
Outstanding Teaching Award and
the Edith Rathbun Award for
Outreach and Engagement.
The longtime administrator has
been dean of the honors college
since 2006, general editor of
University of Toledo Press since 2004,
and a faculty member since 1976. A
former Fulbright Fellow at University
of Wales, Barden received bachelor’s,
master’s, and doctoral degrees in
English from University of Virginia. He
was initiated into the Society at
University of Toledo in 2008 and is
coordinator. The Army veteran
(1968-71) earned a Bronze Star for
artillery duty in Vietnam and rose
from private to first lieutenant.
2012-14 Phi Kappa Phi Scholar Thomas
E. Barden displays his latest book,
Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches from the
War, which came out this year.
Define the folk narrative.
Dramatic tension arising from some sort of conflict is at the core of all stories
and what innately holds our interest. But traditional narratives, while entertaining,
often also function as psychological aids. Many Grimm Brothers’ tales, for example,
are coming-of-age narratives in which someone tries to surmount obstacles to
enter the adult world. Allan Chinen’s Once Upon a Midlife, a favorite book of mine,
analyzes stories about people’s middle years; often the theme is that youthful
magic fades and life becomes more about hard work and perseverance. Another
thing: folk narratives usually reflect the cultures that maintain them.
When it comes to
creativity, consider Robert T.
Barrett ambidextrous. On
the one hand, the Brigham
Young University visual arts
professor is a well-known
illustrator; on the other
hand, he is a sought-after
painter. His thousands of
works span book covers,
portrait commissions, and
life drawings, watercolors,
editorials, and advertising,
Barrett’s clients run the gamut. They range from major publishing companies
such as Random House to mass-market magazines such as Reader’s Digest. The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls on him to visualize its messages
and depict its leaders. And he’s a go-to illustrator for children’s books.
Honors come often. His pieces appear in exhibitions nationwide and are in the
permanent collections of regional and university art museums. The Provo (Utah)
Arts Council presented him with its National Humanities and Arts Award, the
Society of Illustrators with its Distinguished Educator in the Arts citation, and BYU
with its Karl G. Maeser Excellence in Teaching Award.
A member of the BYU faculty since 1982 and of the BYU Phi Kappa Phi chapter
since 1993, Barrett earned painting degrees from University of Utah (B.F. A.) and
University of Iowa (M. A. and M.F.A.).
2012-14 Phi Kappa Phi Artist Robert T. Barrett
Compare and contrast illustrating and painting.
The media are often the same. Also, the formal elements of color, value,
edges, and composition are similar. However, the intent can be quite different.
Illustration needs to communicate to a large, more democratic audience,
whereas painting (or fine art) may be much more ambiguous. Illustration is
commissioned and the subject or problem to solve stipulated. Fine art may be
more concerned with posing questions.
How do you switch gears given the diversity of your projects?
I have a great studio in my home with plenty of space and light, a good
stereo system, and many art books. I also find traveling, museums, reading, and
other artists’ studios motivational.
And American iterations?
Stories featuring kings, queens, princesses, and nobles didn’t hold interest for
colonists (and, subsequently, newly minted Americans). As folklorist Richard Dorson
pointed out, American stories gravitated toward larger-than-life characters, Western
expansion, and interactions with Native Americans. Later, the Industrial Revolution,
especially the railroad, held great appeal. Then the automobile trumped the horse
and the iron horse, and the open road became the national obsession.
Share more thoughts about inspiration.
For me, it comes from a lot of places: sketchbooks, traveling, nature, the
construction of the human form, divine intelligence. I recently spent two days
on location at a movie shoot and was energized by the sets, costumes, actors,
art directors, etc.; I took more than 600 photos for future reference.
What is overlooked in your field?
“High culture.” For instance, I don’t spend much time on complex postmodern
novels. Inversely, some colleagues dismiss Steinbeck as subliterature since you
don’t need an expert to help you comprehend him.
What’s the relationship between content and aesthetics?
Because illustration is heavily involved with visual communication,
subject matter is very important. However, I believe every successful artist
also must deal with the aesthetics of form or shape, texture, lighting,
composition, color, etc.
You give a talk entitled “The Humanities in Everyday Life.”
Ordinary people possess great knowledge and artistry that are undervalued or
overlooked because they lack formal credentials or training. Seasoned cooks,
yarn-spinning grandfathers, country bluesmen, and quilters, for example, may
produce astounding work, but only within a small circle. In fact, cultural theorist
Daniel Ben-Amos suggests that “folklore is artistic communication in small groups.”
Who are your role models?
I have many and they have changed over time. Golden Age illustrators
including N. C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, Dean Cornwell, and J. C. Leyendecker.
Nineteenth-century artists such as James McNeill Whistler, John Singer
Sargent, Edwin Austin Abbey, Edgar Degas, and Claude Monet. Contemporary traditional painters like Burton Silverman, Richard Schmid, and
Jeremy Lipking. ■
Barden photo: Daniel Miller