Kansas City artist finds freedom in a box


Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo

Kansas City, Mo., artist Barbara McCreery makes quirky mixed media shadow boxes. Her work will be on view beginning Saturday at Olive Gallery & Art Supply, 15 E. Eighth St. She's pictured with her work "Pervert with Anthurium."

Barbara McCreery likes to think of herself as a botanist with a wild hair.

The Kansas City, Mo., artist has spent most of her 50 years in a nursery, obliging the will of her green thumb.

"I have always loved plants and being around them," she says.

And so it seems understandable that winter often leaves McCreery feeling wilted. Her yard is devoid of plants to tend; her landscaping business -- Weatherstaff Landscape Design -- goes on seasonal hiatus.

"About five years ago, I realized I needed a hobby not related to plants or gardening," she says. "Otherwise, I was going to go crazy."

McCreery began searching for a creative outlet. As a lover of minutia and quirky bric-a-brac, she found broad projects unappealing.

"I like details and getting them just right," McCreery says.

So when the petite plant-lover discovered shadow boxes, she knew she had met her match.

Past Event

"Pastry Chefs and Mummies" opening

  • Saturday, March 6, 2004, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Olive Gallery and Art Supply, 15 E. 8th St., Lawrence
  • All ages / Free


"It was a perfect fit right away," she says. "It seemed like a great escape."

For the uninitiated, shadow boxes are most commonly shallow, wooden cases with a glass front. The boxes stand upright, creating a one-sided aquarium of sorts. The result is perfect for creating an insular world, McCreery says.

"It's like a little fishbowl, really," she says.

McCreery estimates she's completed about 40 shadow boxes in recent years, spending anywhere from four days to several weeks to complete each one. The boxes usually feature a theme and coinciding title. McCreery's personal favorites include "Pervert with Anthurium," an ode to a friend who loved a certain plant a little too much, and "All Dressed Up and No Place to Goth," a tribute to black fingernail polish and equally dark perspective.

The innovative artist uses Sculpey clay figures in most of her shadow boxes, plus "a little of this and that" from Hobby Lobby. But what makes McCreery's creations unique are the offbeat oddities and vintage finds she displays inside.

"I knew in the beginning I wanted to do something different," she says.


Scott McClurg/Journal-World Photo

Kansas City, Mo., artist Barbara McCreery makes quirky shadow boxes using found objects. Pictured are McCreery's "Odd Girl with Pod," left, and "Just off the Bus."

McCreery turned to friend Oscar Golden for inspiration. Golden, she says, adheres to the adage "One man's junk is another man's treasure."

"I started searching abandoned houses with him, looking for treasures or anything interesting," McCreery says.

The tandem's loot, which includes vintage soda bottles, old books and even a mummified dog, often appears in McCreery's shadow boxes.

Jill Kleinhans, co-owner of Olive Gallery & Art Supply in Lawrence, says she's impressed by McCreery's eccentric, yet accessible creations.

"Shadow boxes are a pretty common medium, but Barbara just takes them to a new level," Kleinhans says. "She has great style, and people can relate to her work."

McCreery is no stranger to Olive Gallery & Art Supply -- she first contacted Kleinhans a year ago when the business was searching for olive-themed artwork to celebrate its opening. She created several shadow boxes that fit the bill, and Kleinhans was pleased enough that she offered to host an exhibit of McCreery's work.

On Saturday, that offer will come to fruition.

"Pastry Chefs and Mummies," an exhibit of 30 or so McCreery shadow boxes, will run from Saturday through March 31 at the gallery. McCreery will be selling her work and estimates prices will fall between $75 and $600, depending on the size and theme of the shadow box.

"My work is close to my heart and hard to part with," she says. "But I need to make some money, too.

"I'm hopeful people will see the attention that goes into these pieces -- I think that's what makes them special."


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