Sunday, September 05, 2010

Farewell to the 'artist of the century'

PANAMA CITY — I spent a sunny morning with Barbara Mulligan a few years ago as she showed me around her home studio in Panama City. Canvases and slabs of wood leaned in bunches at every corner and against every wall, stacked in cabinets and closets, drying on the back porch, hanging in the living room — everywhere you turned.

She talked about technique (she was always teaching), and she talked about inspiration.

“I just saw it,” she said of one piece inspired by a Sunday morning church message. She had been sitting in the congregation and the image appeared, complete, in her mind’s eye.

She found inspiration all around her, and she was driven to share the images that inspiration produced. She gave much of her time and energy to others, participating in community groups and charities, helping others pursue the fruits of their inspirations.

Barbara, an accomplished artist and writer, a beloved wife, mother, grandmother and friend, died on Aug. 28 after succumbing to a brain tumor. She was 75.

I called her the “Artist of the Century,” in part because she painted the logo for Panama City’s centennial celebration. It carried her signature stained glass-on-wood style, and presented images emblematic of the past and future of her town. She painted it on wood salvaged after Hurricane Ivan.

And she continues to surprise. I read in her obituary that she had mounted a trapeze for the circus, and her son Shaun clarified the tale: “Mom had a PE class at FSU and because of her petite stature she was asked to perform on the trapezes for the FSU Flying High Circus.”

She kept in touch with me after first making acquaintance through The News Herald nearly a decade ago — we had met to discuss a show of her work. She often sent me emails with photos her husband George had taken, or paintings she had submitted to shows, or announcements about writer’s guild meetings, or sometimes heated reactions to local events. She told me stories.

She wished me peace.

Two years ago, Barbara donated a pair of painted galoshes to Project Joy Boots, a local fundraiser close to my heart that seeks to endow a scholarship for technical theatre students at Gulf Coast Community College. At the time, she sent me this note that sums up so much of what she was about:

“When I was a girl, I had a wonderful summer camp experience at a religious retreat. I learned there that real JOY is the practice of following this message: Consider this when dealing with life decisions and putting the important persons in the order ... Jesus, Others, Yourself.”

We will miss you, Barbara.

This was my Sunday "Undercurrents" column for The News Herald. See photos and a video inerview with Barbara here.
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