Barbara Kieffer Rowe, Painter

Barbara Kieffer Rowe

When and how did your painting journey begin?

Early in my childhood my mother would lift me up, prop me on her lap, and magically capture images with a pencil and on paper. This taught me to seek shapes, colors, and textures, and to catch exciting images on paper. As young curiosity increased, I was enthralled with “found” natural objects that were discovered around my family’s Black Hills ranch. This interest in the natural world ultimately resulted in degrees that allow me to live at the junction of art, geology, and paleontology.

What drew you to your specific type of painting style and/or medium?

My painting style is continually evolving. Basic approach? Sketch natural forms and let inner expression take over. Acrylic paints and mixed media allow versatility and spontaneity. Paint is applied to canvas and paper with transparent overlays that play with color and impasto techniques that give rise to the painting surface. Enthusiasm for texture frequently results in tactile items incorporated on my canvases, including horsehair, beads, rocks, and anything else that is captivating.

What are your favorite subjects to paint?

Capturing nature in multiple ways is rewarding, and South Dakota fossils provide a never-ending subject matter. I am fortunate to live in the Black Hills where world-renowned geological and paleontological environments are at my fingertips. Included are Badlands mammals; an ancient sea that was host to both small creatures and huge aquatic reptiles; dinosaurs; and near-complete Paleozoic stratigraphy. This is topped with animals (yes, horses) and scenery surrounding my Black Hills studio. There is never a lack of favorite subjects to paint!

How did you learn your painting skills?

Devoted grade-school teachers made time for “art” and high school instructors were inspiring. College was a continuum and a lifetime of painting has helped to hone artistic skills.

What lighting environments do you prefer?

A visual voyage into backlighting and evolving shadows attract me. Nuances, such as the iridescence of ancient ammonites, light dancing on faces of crystalline minerals, and rock formations freely sculpted throughout geologic time capture my attention.

The Horse: Evolutionary TracksCan you share your favorite piece and why it is your favorite?

A prominent piece entitled “The Horse: Evolutionary Tracks” is forever in my home. The artwork was created with paleontological bias and paint strokes that fuse with my love of horses. Initiation started with a circularly cut board stretched with canvas and fit into a metal rim. Twelve horse manes were combed, washed, and sorted by color. This hair was inserted into drilled holes resulting in a sinuous gradient of horsehair color that slices through the circular shape. Tracks carved in relief encircle the horsehair were painted and delineate the evolution of the 60 million-year-old living fossil. The represented order of horse tracks indicates an increased size of the horse and evolvement of three toes to a single hoof; Eohippus (size of dog), Mesohippus (three-toed fossil present in Badlands, SD), Miohippus, Merychippus, Pliohippus, and Equus (current horse with dominant single toe and hoof).

What tips or advice do you have for other aspiring artists?

Aspiring artists are encouraged to work hard at their passion and stay true to yourself. Please don’t get discouraged. Surround yourself with friends, family, and other artists who can serve as mentors, provide support, and supply constructive criticism. If a post-high-school education is possible, make it happen. Regardless of formal education or hinderances, keep on a lifetime learning track. Most importantly, believe in your talent and your work.

What artists have inspired you?

My inspiration was not lead by a few artists; rather multiple artists inspire me in some way, spanning from primitive to contemporary. Visiting other countries allows me to view the artists’ visual interpretations of their outside world and their innermost selves. Hopefully, my experiences culminate in a personal creative niche.

Where we can see your work:

Digital images of my artwork are available on my website at, at, and on Artists of the Black Hills' Facebook page.

Display locations:

Perfect Hanging Gallery, Rapid City, SD;
Matthews Opera House and Art Gallery, Spearfish, SD;
Lead-Deadwood Art Center, Lead, SD;
Dahl Art Center, Rapid City, SD (select exhibitions);
Rehfelds Gallery, Sioux Falls, SD (select exhibitions)

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