The following is my submission for his nomination:
Will Barnet epitomizes what every National Medal of the Arts recipient should be – for that matter, what every American citizen should strive to be: someone who has spent a lifetime honing their talents and achieving success because of their hard work. But more than this, Will Barnet understands that his achievements are only as satisfying as his ability to share his success with others. As an artist, he has taught, encouraged and stood as an example to those of us who love to create –paint, draw, sculpt etc. – but sometimes lose faith. Still working at 99, Will has inspired countless artists to grow, stretch, learn and never give up. He has convinced us we can and the world needs what we have to offer. I know this because I am one artist whose life he has deeply touched.
I met Will two years ago. I am a painter and I moved to New York (Southampton, Long Island) from Indiana in the summer of 2006. I had just turned 50, my children were grown and on their own, and I decided to finally take the leap to move to the east coast. It was the realization of a 20+ year dream for me, but after a couple of years of struggling, I was beginning to think I had made a mistake – I was too old, it was too late, and I needed to just be content with what I had accomplished so far.
It was at that time I met Will in NYC at a reception at the National Arts Club. He was 96 and wheelchair bound, but his energy was palpable. A couple of weeks later I went back into NYC to see a show of his prints at The Old Print Shop. I had another chance to speak with him and he convinced me I needed to not give up my goal of breaking into the NYC art scene, despite my age and my lack of contacts. He insisted I go to the National Arts Club right then, get an application, and he would be my sponsor to join. I did.
I then began to research his work and his career. Some of his greatest successes came well into his 70’s, 80’s and 90’s – not to mention some of his most beautiful work. Suddenly 52 seemed pretty young. Now every time I get discouraged and think things aren’t moving quite fast enough for me, I pick up Will Barnet: Catalogue Raisonne 1931-2005, see the inscription he wrote to me, and I keep going.
“To Maggie, Best wishes for a long creative & happy life. Enjoy!” – Will Barnet
As Will Barnet turns 100 this year, there is no better time to celebrate this great man’s life than to award him this honor. No one is more deserving.