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Barr, Paul E.
b. November 25, 1892; d. December 22, 1953
Discipline: Drawing/Illustration, Painting

Paul E. Barr saw and painted many scenes of North America and Europe between the time he left the Tipton County, Indiana farm, where he was born and raised, and the time he died of a stroke in Grand Forks, where he had served twenty-five years as head of the Art Department at the University of North Dakota. During his career, he painted in more than half of the states in America and in more than ten foreign countries. He maintained studios in New York City, Paris, Colorado, and Indiana and attended eight different colleges and universities including the Art Institute of Chicago, Sorbonne University of Paris, and the universities of Colorado, Chicago, and Indiana. Subjects of his paintings included architecture, landscapes, and other scenery of Holland, Switzerland, and Mexico along with rivers, woodlands, southwestern landscapes, and national parks in the United States and mountain ranges such as the Rockies, Grand Tetons, Catskills, Alps, and Tyrolese Alps. During the summer of 1938, Barr spent six weeks and traveled 2,000 miles in North Dakota’s Badlands to produce fifty-six paintings of the area.

Something of a prodigy, Barr’s interest in art developed at an early age. In 1904, at the age of eleven, he exhibited some of his work at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at the World’s Fair in St. Louis and in 1916, he became an annual exhibitor at the John Herron galleries in Indianapolis. He then produced, through continued artistic and educational endeavors, a steady output of paintings that were exhibited in the Marshall Fields department store and the Hoosier Salon and galleries in Chicago; the Indiana Artists Club and Pettis galleries in Indianapolis; the Fort Wayne Art Museum; the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida; the William Rockhill Nelson Gallery in Kansas City, Missouri; and the Rockefeller Center in New York City, among other places.

In 1928, Barr was appointed chair of the Art Department at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, a position he held until his death in 1953. In December 1938, thirty-one of Barr’s fifty-six Badlands paintings were exhibited in Memorial Hall of the North Dakota State Capitol Building in Bismarck. Described by then-Governor William Langer (1933-1934 and 1937-1938) as a “visual record of one of the state’s greatest scenic assets,” the paintings had such titles as “Breaks of the Little Missouri,” “East Rim: Painted Canyon,” “Teddy Roosevelt’s Horsepasture Road,” and “Ranchhouse in the Badlands.” When parts of the exhibit toured east, viewers were said to have expressed surprise at the organized pattern of light, shade, texture and vivid colors (such as blue skies, purple rocks, scoria-colored buttes, and green plateaus) that Barr used and disbelief that such scenery existed. The scenes were all too real, however, to those who were familiar with them.

Barr died in late 1953 at the age of sixty-one, having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage as a result of a stroke. He was survived by his wife Margaret Libby and their son Robert and daughter Martha. His work lives on, though, in private collections all over the country, including that of the International Business Machines (IBM) Corporation and the North Dakota Governor’s Office. His book North Dakota Artists, a collection of biographical sketches on notable visual artists from North Dakota, was published posthumously in 1954.

In addition to painting, Barr was also a lecturer, teacher, illustrator, and poet. He served as State Chairman for American Art Week, has been added to the Honor Roll of the American Artist Professional League, and co-authored with Eugene Myers the art textbook Creative Lettering.

- Ben Nemenoff


Barr, Paul E. North Dakota Artists. Grand Forks: University of North Dakota Library, 1954.

“Paul E. Barr, N.D. Badlands Artist, Dies at Grand Forks.” Fargo Forum, December 22, 1953.

“Paul E. Barr, Noted ND Artist Dies After Stroke.” Bismarck Tribune, December 22, 1953.

“Paul E. Barr Papers, 1928-1955.” Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Collection #32. Grand Forks: University of North Dakota Chester Fritz Library.

Taylor, Edwin Mrs. Catalogue of Art Workers Within North Dakota. Bismarck: American Association of University Women (local branch), 1945.

Other Sources:

State Historical Society of North Dakota

North Dakota Resource File: Biography, North Dakota State Library

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