National Treasure #150: Barbara Carlson

This post concludes my sesquicentennial project
– a list of 150 people, places, and things worth celebrating about Canada –
that I began on 01 July 2016 with a guy named Kent Avery,
who stacks rocks in impossible ways beside the Stanley Park seawall.

Barbara Carlson is many things (including the source of much of the art in our home, and a faithful commenter on this site):

  • American by birth, Canadian by choice
  • Art quilter from the 1970s and 1980s
  • Monoprinter (acrylic paintings) from the 1990s
  • Creator of digital collages using scanned images of found objects (more than 3,300 currently in the catalogue)
  • Author of a two-volume set on Nebraska
  • Author of a 448-page opus on pocket lint

I’m sorry. Did you say, “pocket lint”?

“We carry it around with us all the days of our lives. With every move we make, we create it. With this book, pocket lint has been shown to be not beyond comment and its place in conceptual and performance art assured. With witty and diverse illustrations, artist Barbara Carlson sharpens our appreciation of lint’s origins, its surprising uses, and – when captured by a Scanning Electron Microscope – its intricate beauty.” – From the cover, quoted on listing on Abe Books for The Pocket Lint Chronicles

“Park lark, part caper, part research, part autobiography, part social commentary, all journal, THE POCKET LINT CHRONICLES gives us a meditation on what the fluff in our pockets means to us and what happens when we look at it. What emerges from this book is far, far more than pocket lint.” – Detritus Digest
“If you reed know other book this year — you won’t reed this one eether, at leest from cuvver to cuvver. But do yourself a fayver. Open THE POCKET LINT CHRONICLES ennywhere and graze. Bits of it are EXCEL-lint.” – elitterassy tooday

– From the cover, quoted on a listing on Google Books for The Pocket Lint Chronicles

She supports herself as an artist and has for decades, and does so with style, grace, and whimsy. That’s why I conclude this list with Barbara: she’s worthy of inclusion on her own, of course, but she also stands for all the other unsung Canadian national treasures out there, doing what they love and making both a living at it and a life out of it.

You can read about Barbara and her husband, John Benn, here.

All artwork shown here courtesy of the artist.

Facade view of collage of Ottawa houses.

Facade view of collage of Ottawa houses.


Collage of ottawa houses made to look like a highrise.

Rear view of highrise assembled from photos of Ottawa houses.

Close-up of one house in collage.

Facade view – detail


Greeting card with Leonard Cohen image.

Flat view of greeting card, using scans of found objects (shown at left on back of card) to create an image of Leonard Cohen.


Join me on Canada Day for a recap of sorts.


This entry was posted in Appreciating Deeply, Laughing Frequently, Through Canada and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to National Treasure #150: Barbara Carlson

  1. wow. Thank you! I’m honoured. Makes my day! and I thought it couldn’t get any better, as minutes ago, I saw the Snowbirds fly over our Condo (The Highlands) only 100 feet above our balcony! Seconds before they changed from vertical formation to horizontal. Pure magic. Makes me glad to be alive.
    …and I think every Canadian is a National Treasure. When I became a citizen in 1971, I was interviewed by an official and asked to name a Canadian resource. I said, “Its people.” He agreed, but had never had that answer before, expecting oil or wheat, I guess.
    Happy 150th! And congrats to us for becoming the “Country with the Most Integrity” in the world, beating out Sweden this year. 😀

    I am proud to be the 150th N.T., but you could go on and on, Isabel, about this great Canadian mishmash of people and their achievements. Thanks for the series.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – My pleasure. Re going on and on – we’ll see. Re the Canadian resource – LOL. Yeah, that’s it. People and oil. Pretty sure my Grade 9 Social Studies teacher wouldn’t have gone with that flow.

  2. The Homemade Highrise (above) was so much fun to make: I felt like a god architect that once the facade view was done, I flipped the image and filled in the back with bits from the front, manipulating them at will. They took me three months to do. Each has ~600 layers, each layer manipulatable.
    I was so glad Isabel was the first to see it as I had misspelled FACADE as FASCADE and she thankfully corrected it. “What is that S doing there?” I believe were her exact words. Thanks again, Isabel, for all the editing you have done for me; you have caught many a holler …no, howler! right?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – I’m pretty sure that I merely asked gently, “What’s that word?” but you might remember it aright. Editing is a group or community effort – it’s very hard to edit (even copy edit) one’s own work.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – That amount of detailed work is amazing to me – but the result is surely worth it. Thanks!

  3. I have a small quibble about the Centretown Buzz article: John and I don’t have “a separate living space” at all. The two adjoining condos are all studios & galleries, with a bed and a chesterfield (piled with books). John Benn says, “This is what I call living,” waving his arm around the place, hand-painted “wallpaper” walls covered in art and every other surface covered in art-making stuff. Not the typical high-rise apartment, for sure.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Having wandered through your living/working space more than once, I am pleased to confirm your correction (not a mere quibble) with the article.

  4. Alison Uhrbach says:

    I feel very privileged to have met Barbara, as well as John Benn, and to have seen their condo. To me, it WAS the quintessential living space – with creation all around you. I admire such folk who break convention to follow their passions. I’m in awe.
    And yes Barbara, where would we be without Isabel to keep us on the straight and narrow, so to speak. I think she started doing that for me when I was only 6 years old!

  5. Judith Umbach says:

    A fitting tribute as your final tribute. I would be privileged to meet her one day. Thanks for all the thought you have put into this list of wonderful people.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – Final? We’ll see. But thanks for your appreciation – it’s been an interesting and educational (for me) project.

  6. Laurna Tallman says:

    How splendid! I can never again look at a high-rise with a blank stare. While the notion of individuals and families who reside in those structures is part of my personal experience, the tendencies towards the impersonal imposed by the redundant features of the architecture tends to obliterate that awareness. Barbara’s attention to detail reminds me of another Canadian artist, William Kurelek, who insisted on minute detail in his paintings because he knew people were fascinated by intricacy. The more one studies the details, the more one is drawn into the central import of the work. Thank you for introducing us to the richness, whimsy, and social consciousness of Barbara’s ultra-fine art.

  7. I have been privileged to know Barbara Carlson for my entire life. How fortunate to have a smart, inventive and playful sister. In my early, almost baby days, I remember her taking me around to all the little consignment shops and rummage stores in the old days of Newport Beach, Ca. She would point out little details in everyday items with her fascinating curiosity. In the early mornings we would get dressed warmly to go out to the beach to find shells and things left by the campers and hobos. Most importantly, she never, ever made fun of me for dressing up my doll warmly beforehand and thus delaying our adventure. She was, in addition to very creative, nice.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Betsy – Now that’s a lovely tribute. Barbara, I’d ask for permission to quote this one as well as Laurna’s.

      • Re asking Betsy’s permission, I still do, even AFTER all the quoting I have done of her for years in my books…she is immensely quotable and must know by now I take notes on our frequent and loooong telephone calls. To talk to Betsy for an hour is to know (good) jet lag. 😀

        But she can do a stand-up, very funny speech in front of hundreds and not remember what she says or how she she does it. Pure zen.

    • Oh, Betsy. If I remember what you’ve said over the years (see below), you remember, for me, things I’ve done. Thank you.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Barbara – Nice. At some level, we exist most in other people’s memories of us.

  8. Thanks! Laurna — can I quote you on that?

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