Local artist incorporates modern dance into her art

By Lauren Hoium

Barbara Shafer shows her love for modern dance on her canvas.

barbara shafer

Barbara Shafer is currently working on a painting of a modern dancer. © Lauren Hoium

“I always wanted to be a ballerina,” said Shafer, who works as a modern dance instructor in addition to being a self-employed artist.

Over the past few decades Shafer has been working to combine her passion for art and dance into her pursuit of painting.

While she has always loved dance, it wasn’t until she went to art school that Shafer realized she wanted to become a painter.

“I think I was interested in moving more than I was interested in art,” Shafer said of her childhood. She described herself as a hyperactive child.

Shafer studied sculpture at the Rhode Island School of Design before earning her MFA in painting from the University of Cincinnati. She said she switched to painting because it becomes difficult to sculpt when you get older, but she still considers herself a sculptor.

“I still perceive myself as a sculptor,” she said. “I like forms of things.”

Shafer grew up in Yonkers, New York. After marrying she moved to Eau Claire when her husband started a teaching job here.

When Shafer had children, she set art aside. “I was raising children and I didn’t have time for art,” she said.

In 1990, Shafer became ill and it occurred to her that she needed to get back into making art.

“I was wasting my time,” she said. “I haven’t seriously been putting all my effort in it until the past 15 years.”

Shafer explained that there’s a connection between modern dance and art. “Modern dance uses the whole body to express the idea or the concept and I find it very closely related to painting.”

One of Shafer’s modern dance students, Anna Zook, says that Shafer’s knowledge of art influences how she teaches.

“She was originally focused on sculpture and her background in three dimensional art translates really well,” Zook said. “She is really tuned into her student’s bodies in the way they move and can move in beautiful ways.”

Zook also has an appreciation for Shafer’s paintings. She said the first time she went into the studio and looked at her paintings she was “blown away” and enamored with the expressions on the dancers’ faces.

Zook, who has known Shafer for 22 years, said that her artwork reflects her personality. “She is a larger than life person and her art is larger than life,” she said.

Shafer has used Zook as the subject of four of her paintings. Dancers are the subject of much of Shafer’s artwork, but she also paints other things such as plants, landscapes, and portraits of friends. Zook describes Shafer’s personality as “varied” and says that her art shares that quality.

In addition to being a dance instructor, Shafer has taught painting, drawing and color art classes at UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout.

“The best way to learn is to teach,” she said.

In explaining her process of creating a painting, Shafer said she doesn’t see a separation between drawing and painting. She starts every painting by drawing the subject in pencil first, and often regrets putting paint down. “I’ve got pencils with brushes intermingled and every now and then I still pick up the pencil and lay it on,” she said.

According to Shafer, the satisfying part of creating art is the experience and what you take from it.

“The issue of making art is not about coming up with a final product,” she said. “The issue of making art is the experience and learning and challenging yourself.”

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