Artist all knotted up with his craft
Tom Barnhart leaves no loose ends in his craft.
To twine is to “encircle, enfold, embrace,” like a vine climbing a trellis and eventually covering and hiding the support but somehow maintaining the shape of it.
Barnhart knows how to twine with knots and cotton cord, encircling containers large and small, covering frames and creating wall art.
Membership chairman for the Blacksburg Regional Art Association, Barnhart is a man of detail. Studied and precise in his conversation and his record keeping, those characteristics serve him well in his chosen craft.
Though Barnhart spent 20 years in the Navy, he didn’t learn his knot skills there.
“I was barely a sailor,” he said. “I was a weatherman and only had two sea duty assignments aboard the aircraft carrier USS America and the USS Pocono.”
In the 1960s, Barnhart bought “The Ashley Books of Knots,” a compendium of all things knotty. That led him to create more than 250 pieces of cotton-cord-covered bottles and glassware or wall art made of jute. His collection includes items just inches tall and a cord 4-by-6 anchor hanging at his Giles County home.
With a smile, Barnhart said,“Of course, there are a million puns about knots.”
He has probably heard them all.
“This is not (knot!) macrame,” said Barnhart. “Macrame leaves a trail of loose ends. Knotting is very organized, elaborate and leaves no ends exposed.”
There is a language all its own to this craft. Ply-split braiding, half-hitch, stopper knots and binding knots; tools probably only a knotter would be familiar with. The craft is very portable, quiet and doesn’t require much space. It does require miles of cotton cording or jute, hours of focused concentration and nimble fingers.
Thousands of people share his enthusiasm for knotting. There is a quarterly magazine of the International Guild of Knot Tyers, which Barnhart subscribes to.
Following instructions in the beginning (perhaps aided a bit by some knot experience in the Cub Scouts), Barnhart now creates as he goes, putting the basics to work and letting the shape of the container guide him in his design.
When he tires of knotting, he spends time with his computer, learning how to do Web pages, updating his blog and designing note cards.
He takes part in one or two shows a year.
“I usually sell one or two pieces and some of my notecards featuring kaleidoscope art I make from photos of my finished knot work,” Barnhart said. “Lots of people stop by to ask questions and make knot puns.”
Barnhart and his wife, Missy, an expert quilter, divide their time between a house in Giles County and one in Christiansburg. Tuesdays are always spent in Blacksburg, enabling Barnhart to be part of the BRAA art group meeting. It’s not hard to believe Barnhart is the group’s only knotter.
“When I first joined the group, I was struck with all the colors the painters used and decided maybe there was a wayI could expand from the off-white color of cotton cord,” Barnhart said. “I started experimenting with colored yarns, unwinding them, splitting them and turning them into cord. That led me to very colorful wall art and covered frames.”
The Barnharts’ home in Christiansburg is a permanent exhibit of his work. The bookshelves, the mantle and the walls of the living room all feature his pieces.
Barnhart is a native of Pennsylvania, growing up in Pittsburgh. He joined the Navy right out of high school and headed to Midway Island in the Pacific. His career led him to California, Japan, Washington, D.C., Norfolk and, finally, Bermuda, for his last tour of duty.
Following the Navy, he graduated from James Madison University with a degree in psychology and elementary education and was soon working in a psychiatric hospital for children.
He and his wife have two children and three grandchildren in the area.
His work can be seen online at www.tomknots.com. His notecards are carried in the Matrix Gallery in downtown Blacksburg and Radford’s Green Heron. His knot work and cards are also carried at Narrows Gift Shop and Gallery.
– Submitted by Gerri Young
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