This physical world is a medium of sculpture. Sight and touch lead our experiential journey as we navigate life. Salem sees sculpture as an ultimate in art forms, and it is by no mistake our physical world is the medium that human understanding stems from. He also believes his arrival at sculpture is by higher design.
Salem Barker’s career in sculptural art began in early 2007. A body of work developed after a few years of creating objects in wood, solely as a hobby --or even a therapy. The previous summer, a friend contacted the jury of Rockford, Illinois’ finest art show and succeeded in persuading them that he’d found a notable local artist. The first-place award in sculpture that summer prompted the thought of a possible career path --even though he sold nothing. Salem’s studio in rural northern Illinois near the Wisconsin border is what he calls an artist’s dream space. After years of working in the one-car garage of a ranch style home in a Rockford neighborhood, he and his wife found the perfect country living space in 2012 to raise a family and work on site.
Without a background, education, or training in art, the passion was solely an original pursuit. Salem’s career path had been in the manufacturing and heavy industrial trades, taking him to many countries and fascinating environments. The commitment to availability for emergency service work, as well as a deep interest in manufacturing and technology, held him firmly attached. The stress and involvement of the environments and responsibilities in steel mills, coal mines, power plants, naval vessels, ships, bridges and machine shops was an all-encompassing endeavor. With endless experiential and knowledge gain, including plenty of upward mobility, Salem appeared solidly adhered. Spare time amidst travels was spent delving into personal sketchbooks where a creative outlet for imaginary escape and journaling was found. Without the refinement skills of shading and imitating light, the sketches never quite came to life. The discovery of the ability to sculpt brought these images into the third dimension.
A series of three events in July of 2003 prompted the discovery. A massive micro-burst thunderstorm dropped Rockford’s largest trees, making national news, and the clearing effort offered plenty of accessible timber. While being off work for three months due to an off-road motorcycle riding injury, the boredom of a restricted life on crutches exhausted his sketchbook escapes. The news of the sudden death of a close family member stirred deep emotions that overcame the one-legged handicap and prompted three straight days of carving, directly followed by a full knee reconstruction surgery. The anxious recovery time brought a longing to return to this new creative outlet --a physically expending therapy that pulled the body, mind, and spirit together for a single task.
The acquisition of tools, wood, and a few books transformed his small garage space into a delightful mess where a budding artist could enter a new world of his own. After two years of dabbling, the exercise was pushed to a higher plateau when the news of the death of his sister, his best friend, caught him by surprise. There are many ways we deal with loss, and his art was a familiar way of escape and healing. The desire to create beautiful objects now shadowed all other work.
Meeting Christina, now his wife, is what finally dropped the art anchor. No longer could he travel at fifty percent of his time, being gone from two things he loved; art and her. The great unknown of a sculpting career was chartable by the many juried art shows in this wonderful country. Adventure, freedom, and challenge filled his heart as the journey commenced to create objects both he and others viewed as integral belongings to their living spaces.
Salem now has art in nearly every state of the country as well as in several other countries. Larger pieces have been installed in private corporate settings in sizes as tall as twenty-five feet, while most pieces adorn the homes of art lovers. Two separate art museum collection acquisitions are currently underway by collectors; Racine, WI Art Museum and Springfield, MA Art Museum. A number of faithful patrons have strong and growing collections of Salem’s sculptures and enjoy watching his escalating progression of style expected with each coming year. He believes art must first be attractive before it can communicate a successful message to us. He believes it could only be an artist that willed the mystery of human consciousness to explore and experience itself in a physical world. His sculptures are expected to be entities of themselves, delivering beauty, sure of their purpose. Nearly all human efforts are basic to the resistance of entropy, as we long to escape death and decay. The choice for wood as his main sculpting medium exemplifies resurrection by taking something that has died and giving it new life: a beauty unimagined beyond its original state. This fulfilling pursuit has blessed the living environments for hundreds of people and allowed Salem to raise a family on the sole income of an art profession.
Showing in some of the finest juried art shows in the country, Salem is a frequent award winner and proudly displays his winnings on the walls of his studio where he regularly works amidst his three homeschooled children. The family bond is the strongest societal construct, and its adhesion is furthered by a home-based career. This is one of Salem’s most important pursuits.
Artists are inherently capitalists and Salem offers no apology for it. He aims to consistently improve the quality of his work by increasing in talent and efficiency. He lives his life in a way that assures his collectors that their ownership of his art is a worthy investment. Health and healthy family living are his most valuable assets, and they assure many decades of future art production. He and his wife joyfully give ten percent of their income to select charities. This is a motivator as we enjoy blessing others as we have been blessed.
Salem says, “My heart, my hands, and my mind are guides as I resurrect once-living organisms into works of art. When others find beauty in what I’ve created, they are helping create me.”
(references available at request)
“Dance to Eternity” -stone sculpture at Wesley Willows retirement community, Rockford, IL 2012
“From Seed to the Senses” -12’ wood sculpture at Bell’s Brewery in Comstock, MI, 2013
“Oak Leaf” -stone sculpture at Oak Crest retirement community in Dekalb, IL 2017
“The Outpouring” -25’ tall metal sculpture at The Valley Hotel, Homewood, AL 2020