Hot Springs artist shows work in exhibit sponsored by national museum

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published January 5, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Nick Hillemann

Hot Springs resident Barbara Cade is one of five Natural State artists to be chosen to have her work represented in the Arkansas Women to Watch Exhibition 2013 at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock. Cade is a fiber artist whose works are on display throughout the country.

Barbara Cade didn’t start out to be a fiber artist.

“I was halfway through the year working on my master’s degree in German when I decided that was not what I wanted to do,” Cade said. “I went ahead and finished my degree, but after I graduated I went to the library and found a book on stained glass. I tried that for a while, and then I tried making candlesticks out of old table legs.

“One day, I was talking with my mom about a cousin who said she wanted to learn how to weave and how that sounded like fun. My mom said my grandmother had an old loom in the barn. I got that loom out and a lightbulb suddenly went off in my head — I wanted to learn how to weave.”

Born in Illinois and raised in California, Cade started out as a traditional weaver but she has taken that craft far beyond those traditional borders. She is now a well-known fiber artist with works on display throughout the country.

Most recently, the Arkansas Committee

of the National Museum of Women in the Arts chose Cade as one of five state artists for the Arkansas Women to Watch Exhibition 2013, which is currently on display at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock, a department of the Central Arkansas Library System. The theme of the exhibit, which is sponsored by the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., is textiles.

“I am pleased, absolutely pleased, to be included in this exhibit,” Cade said. “It’s the most wonderful thing. I am so thankful to the committee and to the person who chose me for the exhibit. It’s nice that the public is being educated about fiber art and what it can be.

“The fiber world is divided into two segments — some are very traditional, weaving clothes and fashions from fiber, while others, like me, make art for the wall.”

It was after her move to Arkansas in 1976 that Cade began to expand her craft. “I was asked to do a residency in Searcy,” she said. “I wanted to make some kind of animal. I ended up making a life-size lion made of felt that toured the schools in Searcy for six weeks.

“It was fun,” she said. “It was nice to do something just because it was fun.”

Cade is involved in every phase of creating her artwork — weaving, spinning, dyeing, felting and papermaking; she even makes the frames for her art.

“I feel a kinship with anyone who has ever created something by hand,” she said in an artist’s statement. “It pleases me to know that my work will never be reproduced by machine.”

Cade has four pieces of her fiber art in this current exhibition, which has been traveling the state since it opened Feb. 1, 2013, at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas in Pine Bluff.

Confetti and Field of Daisies are made with wool and are the smallest pieces in the show, measuring 22-by-22 inches. Patterns, a larger piece measuring 28-by-29-by-3 inches, is made with wool, acrylic and found objects and depicts snow on rocks. Salsa is the largest piece in the show, measuring 45 by 44 by 4 inches, and is made with handmade felt and paper and is Cade’s interpretation of looking down on a pathway in the woods. Cade categorizes these works as “landscapes.”

“They are what I see in nature,” she said.

In addition to this honor from the Arkansas Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the same committee awarded Cade a scholarship in 2004 to help fund a trip to Finland to study felt making.

Cade said she creates her works from photographs she takes as she travels, whether it’s during a walk on the many trails of Hot Springs National Park, or whether it’s on trips to other places.

“I find inspiration in nature, from places I travel to, but mostly from the views of the woods and the lake from my studio,” she continued in her artist’s statement. “The places may be different, but the message is still the same. I like to magnify ordinary things in the environment. I think truth comes from the observation of nature.”

In addition to creating landscapes, Cade creates geometric pieces akin to the Chinese tangram puzzle that contain seven pieces, which are first arranged in a square and then in the form of an object. She also creates sculptures made with fiber.

Cade sells her works, with many of them gracing the walls of hospitals and other businesses. “I want my work to reflect peace and quiet,” she said. “I think that’s why hospitals buy my work.”

She works every day in her home studio, which she calls the Blue Rock Studio. “That’s all I know to do,” she said. “It’s always been that way. It’s become a career for me.”

Cade received a bachelor’s degree in German from the University of Illinois at Urbana in 1962 and a master’s degree in German from the University of Washington at Seattle in 1967.

“When I was in high school studying German, I planned to translate at the United Nations, but then I found out it was not an official language there, and all of the translators are bilingual from birth,” she said. “Then I decided to work for Radio Free Europe. I’m not quite sure how that idea got lost, but a friend talked me into taking some education classes so I could teach, which I did for a while.

“The education classes come in handy since I do art residencies in the schools,” she said. “Art-in-Education is one of the programs of the Arkansas Arts Council. I have been involved with it since 1985. Every residency is a new challenge.”

Cade and her husband, Stephen, have two daughters and three grandchildren who live in St. Louis.

The Arkansas Women to Watch Exhibition 2013 remains on display through Feb. 22.

The Butler Center is at 401 President Clinton Ave. in Little Rock. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; the center is closed on Sundays and holidays.

For more information on the exhibit, call (501) 320-5700 or visit

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