Chronicler of the Chesapeake Comes To Powhatan

By Victoria Kidd

President Ronald Reagan and CBS newsman Walter Cronkite shared more than a regular spot on every American’s television set. Both commissioned portraits from one of the country’s most admired artists. Now John M. Barber is coming to Powhatan School for a special artist-in-residence program.

Barber has created works for many notable people. Although the body of his work includes scenes from across America and subjects from the world over, he is best known as a chronicler of the Chesapeake Bay and the people who live, work, and visit there. In addition to painting the Bay, he has been involved in protecting its delicate ecosystem and has served previously as a member of the board of trustees of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. His love of the area is almost visible in the images of vessels, people, and culture that are expertly captured in the careful brushstrokes of his work. He is also a Fellow of the American Society of Marine Artists, and he is the artist behind the official paintings for both the World War II Memorial and the White House Bicentennial Commemoration Celebration. Furthermore, as a participant in the Department of State American Artists program, his artwork hangs in embassies in Europe and South America.

Powhatan students will soon have a unique experience to meet with and learn from Barber as the school’s artist in residence in March. For three days, students will receive personalized attention and hands-on instruction from Barber.

Powhatan parent Scott Bessette is thrilled. An active supporter of the school, Bessette is enthusiastic about the way the arts are integrated in the school’s programming. While the artist will only be there for a few days, Bessette believes the experience will have a lasting impact. “Having an artist like John Barber come into the school to work with our children is amazing,” he says. “We have several of his pieces in our home, so our children will recognize his work immediately.”

Bessette commended the school for bringing in Barber. “This will certainly be a tough act to follow next year,” he said.

Susan Scarborough, Powhatan’s Head of School, says artists like Barber illustrate the school’s motto: “We learn not for school, but for life.” The idea is that learning should be designed to prepare students for life post-graduation, as opposed to providing the knowledge needed to pass a test or otherwise meet a state standard.

“Students at Powhatan learn about nature and the importance of our delicate ecosystem and use technology as a tool for learning to read, write, communicate, and analyze data,” she said. “They experience the arts and science in natural settings that inspire creativity and innovation. And by actually meeting artists, scientists, and authors they can visualize themselves in those future roles.”

Scarborough agrees with Bessette that the opportunity to work with Barber is tremendously impactful for students. “Having an artist of the caliber of John Barber support and contribute to our arts program at Powhatan School will be an amazing experience for all of our students, and it demonstrates our commitment to artistic development in addition to our science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) curriculum.”

Learn more about John Barber and view examples of his work at