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Barbara Leoff Burge



To be posted...



by Gwynneth J. Hartmann


Barbara Leoff Burge: Artist and Feminist 


Barbara Leoff Burge, one of the founding members of the Women’s Studio Workshop, is being celebrated in the art exhibition known as The Golden Age of New Paltz. Burge is well known for creating abstract pieces with strong messages about society and femininity. Burge fought hard to become a respected woman artist in the 1960s. For this exhibition she wants to showcase the works of Kenneth Burge, who passed away in November. 


What made you choose art as your career and passion?
I think I was an artist before I even called it art. To me, being an artist was a guy thing or it was an ancient thing. I didn’t know you could be an artist in modern days. But, if I liked something I was crazy over it. 


What was your first experience with art?
There was a Catholic church on my street where I grew up. When I walked by the doors would be open and I’d look inside. I remember seeing these statues with their eyeballs rolling up. My neighbors also had a picture of the sacred heart over their door. It showed Jesus opening his shirt revealing his heart with the flame. I thought, “I love that. I want that.” But, I didn’t dare say anything to my parents. I kept that to myself.


What was your childhood like?
It was terrifying, but I was pretty resilient. Once I was walking home from school and all these French-Canadian kids held hands and blocked me from going across the street. I will always remember this because they said, “You killed Jesus Christ!” They said this because I was Jewish. I was crying and scared and I ran home. When I got home I said to my parents, “Who is Jesus Christ?” But I wanted to be Catholic. I wanted to be like my friends, and I wanted my first communion. My dream was to get married in the Catholic church with a white veil and all that.


Did you want to be catholic because you loved the imagery?
I think the Catholic church was my only aesthetic experience as a child. I wanted in.


What brought you to New Paltz?
My husband Kenny got a job here in 1965.


What was it like back then?
There were a lot of motorcycle guys that used to hang in front of P&G’s. They would make comments when I passed by and say, “Oh Stella By Starlight.” I yearned for New York City because I thought that’s where all the action was. I thought this place was a one-horse town. I didn’t really want to be here, but over the years I realized it doesn’t matter where you are, it is who you are.  


Why did you start the women’s studio workshop?
There was really bad sexism against women artists. I was teaching at Dutchess and they told me they didn’t want to hire me because I was a woman. That was OK to say back then. I really bent over backwards to teach back then. I did things they didn’t even ask me to do. I still got fired for being a woman. I couldn’t get a job so I started teaching at my own studio. Kenny introduced me to other women interested in teaching. One day, one of the people, Anita, said, “Why don’t we try to write a grant and see if we can get some money to start a workshop?” It happened right in the corner of my studio. We started that workshop on little to nothing. I didn’t make enough money to support myself, but I taught the whole time because I wanted to. 


Have you been able to create any new art since Kenny’s death?
No, I have not. I want to go to the next thing, but I don’t have the energy. I never lost somebody that I really loved. I am not sad, and I think I am doing ok. I was doing a lot of art when Kenny was sick and at the nursing home. But right now, I am not going to force myself. It is time to move on to something new. I want to do something really different from what I did while he was ill.  I’m still thinking about what I am going to do. I really want to focus more on Kenny’s work for the show, because he doesn’t have any more chances to show. I am hoping to showcase a lot of his work. 

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