American Art Collector

Barbara Ernst Prey: 40 Years of Painting


American Art Collector, August 2012

Through August 31, Blue Water Fine Arts in Port Clyde, Maine, will hold its annual exhibit for artist Barbara Ernst Prey. Titled America’s Artist, Forty Years of Painting, the show will feature 40 pieces in watercolor, drybrush and oil. All of the paintings on display are new or never-before-seen pieces from her private collection and works while doing artwork at The New Yorker, The New York Times, Gourmet and other publications.

Prey was exposed to art early in life. Her mother painted and was head of the design department at Pratt Art Institute, and there was a large art studio in her childhood home. This exposure led Prey to pursue an interest in watercolors, like her mother. Prey went to Williams College where she studied with Lane Faison. She also received a master’s degree from Harvard University—where she continued her art history studies—and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and a Henry Luce Foundation grant, which allowed her to travel, study and exhibit throughout Europe and Asia.

Primarily a watercolorist, Prey takes everday scenes from her surroundings and transforms them into her own visual interpretation. Many of the works have a focus on environment and landscapes. As she explains, “My paintings are a tapestry of my life.”

Her works also vary widely in subject matter, from rooms and homes to daytime landscapes and nocturnes. What’s more, she notes that every piece embodies what she’s trying to convey to the viewer. “They all do because they’re different—you have The Meeting House…that’s a very quiet, meditative painting. Whereas Waterlilies, I saw it and that was an instant reaction and I had it in my mind for three-quarters of a year. I did some studies and came back and painted that,” explains Prey.

Many of her paintings are from series of works such as the piece Field of Dreams, which is from her twilight series; or Nocturne IV, from her nocturne series. “There are pieces from the different series that come in [to the exhibit], but I always want to move on and am always looking,” says Prey, who continuously tries to push boundaries with her works.

Along with painting, Prey is an advocate for the arts. She was appointed one of 14 elected members of the National Council on the Arts, the advisory board of the National Endowment for the Arts.