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  • Writer's pictureShea Stanfield

Born with Form

Meret Oppenheim, a member of the Surrealist movement, once observed, "Every notion is born along with its form. I make a reality of ideas as they come into my head." Fast forward into the year 2021, we find a very modern, cutting-edge surrealist right here in Cave Creek, Arizona. Karen Chatfield Barnhart has a natural talent for harnessing her wildest imaginings and spinning them into reality with the skill of an enchantress. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, her family moved to Southern California when she was seven years old. The sun and surf pumped up the young Barnhart's imagination, and she took to coloring outside the lines of her coloring books and executing death-defying rope swinging tricks from a jungle gym. "No doubt this might explain why I am the way I am." muses Barnhart. When asked who her significant influencers are, she responds, "Henri Rosseau, David Hockney, Keith Haring, and Oaxacan Wood Carving." Considering her list, she adds, "If once a month you could trade brains with another artist, I would add Michael DeMeng, Heather Campbell, or Fred Tieken."


Barnhart attended UCSD leaving with a Bachelor's degree in Visual Arts. Since then, she has fueled her creative side by taking workshops with Michael DeMeng in Oaxaca. Through the years, Barnhart has honed both the left and right sides of her brain in jobs such as working for Home Federal Savings & Loan in their Instructional Media department, directing management training presentations. The result was in an assignment as Assistant to the Vice President of Marketing at the Hilton Hotel Corporation in Beverly Hills. "No, I never met Paris Hilton. She was just a baby then and had other places to go and people to see."

"Every notion is born along with its form. I make a reality of ideas as they come into my head."

Barnhart moved back to Encinitas, CA, married, and started her own graphic design business, where she discovered owning a business was not what it was cracked up to be, "I worked all the time and never slept!" Her husband at the time was the Promotions Director at the classic rock station in San Diego, and she worked on some of the promotional materials for the station. Barnhart refers to this time, as Bruce Springsteen once said, the glory days." "Movie premieres, event appearances, backstage meet and greets, and wild and crazy rock 'n roll escapades." After 20 years of what Barnhart calls "Hard labor in self-employment, I went to work for an advertising agency as the Senior Graphic Designer of the SDGE account, creating the monthly gas and electric bill inserts." An assignment followed this job as the Communications Director and Assistant to the General Manager at an upscale country club. At this, point Barnhart's creative 'yellow brick road' took a turn toward Arizona.

One afternoon while golfing in Rancho Santa Fe, CA, with a mysterious stranger, Barnhart and her husband were told there was an astonishingly affordable lifestyle to be had in a place called Anthem. You could purchase a home for under a million dollars! Skeptical, they investigated this outlandish claim on Zillow, and the rest is history, final destination Cave Creek. Barnhart thought, "I had high hopes of channeling the artistic spirit of Georgia O'Keeffe." But this hasn't happened in quite the same way. When asked what inspires her, Barnhart responded, "Inspiration seems to be wandering around and hits me on the head. Recently, I have been reading about aestheticism, which seems to sum up my approach to art, "art for art's sake." Barnhart's creations are reminiscent of Steampunk, a concept she shares with her artist husband, aka Vandegraaff Gearheardt. The couple has enjoyed enormous success exhibiting in Palm Springs, New York, Santa Fe, and Sturgis, South Dakota, but that's another article.


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