‘We’re a bunch of artists:’ Monticello family celebrates generations of incredible art

Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 5:39 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Barnharts live off Barnhart Road, just East of downtown Monticello, on a plot of land owned by the family since the 1860s.

On a recent sunny day, the expansive green space was transformed into a colorful yet silent symphony of art.

Christopher Barnhart and his father, Neil, had spent the morning laying out hundreds of their own works to show off to WCTV cameras.

“We’re a bunch of artists. My dad is an artist, my brother is an artist, my cousin is an artist,” Christopher said.

He recently moved back to the Big Bend after a stint in South Florida. Being closer to home, he said this was the perfect time to celebrate the many Barnharts who have a knack for creativity.

“I could literally go through and change all of this out and bring a whole new set of art,” he said.

Neil Barnhart, now in his 70s, has been drawing since he was a boy. His mom would draw him stick figures. He was intrigued, but wanted to unlock more. He told his mom he knew what he wanted to do when he got older.

“I was 12 years old. I said I know what I’m going to be,” he said. “She said what? I said I’m going to be an artist.”

Neil paints whatever comes to mind, often in oil or acrylics, but also with pen or pencil.

“You sleep it. you eat it. Wake up with it in the middle of the night, get up and draw,” he said.

When Neil had his son, Christopher, it didn’t take long for him to realize the family had another artist on the way.

“When he was born I knew he was going to be an artist,” Neil said.

“I told his mother he’s going to be an artist just like me. She said no. I said yes he is.”

His belief would be validated only a few years later, as Christopher showed an interest in his father’s art early on.

And as more layers of the art world started revealing themselves, Christopher found a different path than his father.

“I really enjoyed it. The first time I touched it, it was just like magic,” Christopher said.

He’s referring to razor art. Using a blade, he starts with an all-black canvas. He shaves into it, leaving white designs.

“Then I flood it with ink, then I etch it again, ink it again. Over and over and over until you get the depth that you’re able to achieve in it,” he said.

He’s never looked back, often turning to Africa for inspiration.

His favorite piece is titled ‘Infinity.’ It depicts a Maasai man from Africa. From afar, a viewer just sees a face worn over time. But a closer review reveals dozens of hidden symbols and messages.

Christopher says it’s a metaphor for how people judge others.

“You know, you’ll see a person from a distance and have an opinion. But the second you get a chance to know ‘em, and kind of get to read ‘em, like woah,” he said.

According to the family, there are dozens of Barnhart artists, from cousins, to aunts, to fathers and sons. Most of them were self-taught, receiving little training.

Kathryn Barnhart Austin is a retired ASL interpreter for Leon County Schools. She also dabbles in art.

The paintbrush has helped her battle health scares over the years.

“Art is my escape. Anything to let me use my hands is an escape,” she said.

Her brother, Neil, said his decades of creation aren’t for any fame or fortune.

“It’s not because of the money, but the dedication,” he said.

For Christopher, he looks to leave something behind that lives on long after he goes.

“The Barnharts are creating such an incredible legacy,” he said.

“And as an artist that’s what we really want to do. We want to create something that will last forever.”

Christopher has worked with the City of Tallahassee and KCCI on several projects in the past. He hopes to start his own art festival in Jefferson County, displaying his father’s pieces right beside his own.

He has a online gallery featuring a number of his razor art pieces.