Weeping Willows


McFadyen, Barbara
My work is about love and longing, remembering, and finding solace through reflections of the past.

An accomplished metalsmith and enamelist, as well as an inventive book artist, Barbara McFadyen has been producing unique, wearable forms for over four decades.  Much of her work focuses on humankind’s relationship with nature which she explores in her jewelry and unique artists’ books. As she stated, “My inspirations, thoughts, and emotions are deeply connected to the natural world; they have been nourished by observing, exploring, and gathering from nature throughout the seasons since childhood.  Through my work I seek to transform reflections of nature’s raw and wild beauty into distilled moments of tranquility.”  However, her vision of nature is filtered and transformed by her awareness of diverse cultural traditions.  She feels a particular affinity to the art of Japan which she feels embodies an inimitable, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty as well as a deep connection to the flux of nature.

McFadyen attended Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida where she was awarded her BA in Creative Arts in 1974.  In the mid 1970s, she studied at the Kulicke-Stark Academy in New York where she was first introduced to enameling.  She later studied with master enamelists Bill Helwig, Martha Banyas, Jamie Bennett, Linda Darty, and others.  In 1982 she became a partner in a jewelry gallery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and later pursued graduate studies at East Carolina University where she was awarded her MFA in 2017.  At ECU she studied with Ken Bova, Robert Ebendorf, Mi-Sook Hur, and Tim Lazure.

In a body of work exhibited at her MFA show at East Carolina University, McFadyen explored the cyclical nature of life, from birth to death, through a series of sixteen highly evocative pieces.  Including both enamel jewelry and artists’ books, Anamnesis, meaning the recollection or remembrance of the past, traced the impact of life’s transitions through work exploring such issues as love, loss, solace, memory, and reflection.  Remarkably, much of the power and beauty of this series was informed by the death of the artist’s own mother, giving McFadyen’s work both a deeply personal significance and a universality.  In the exhibition and the thesis she wrote to accompany it, McFadyen examined the history of mourning jewelry in Western culture – wearable forms intended to both commemorate the deceased and provide solace to the living.  The works McFadyen made and exhibited were influenced in part by those traditional forms of jewelry.  In drawing upon and transforming those traditions, McFadyen discovered a new vehicle for personal expression and for her exploration of universal concerns.

Deeply committed to sharing her knowledge and passion for her field, McFadyen has taught or led workshops at institutions across the country including the John C. Campbell Folk School, NC; Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, TN; Penland School of Crafts, NC; Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, ME; Kobe Design University, Japan; and elsewhere.

She has also curated several exhibitions including, most recently, Vitreous Voices: The Enamel Tradition of East Carolina University which she co-organized with Bob Ebendorf.  The exhibition, a tribute to the artist Linda Darty founder of the enamels program at ECU, included work by many of Darty’s students, colleagues, and friends.