Barbara Franc: For the Love of Animals
From early dreams of being a vet through a career at the BBC, Barbara Franc now creates exquisite statues of animals in fabric. Get to know this artist.
Barbara Franc’s Friday Feature Artist Interview can be found at the bottom of this page.
Becoming a vet was Barbara Franc’s original focus, so it’s no surprise that animals are the mixed media sculptor’s primary inspiration. The birds are perched, the rabbit sometimes startled, the squirrels ready to dash. These lively sculptures are full of expression and appear caught in what often appears to be a cheeky moment.
Using recycled and discarded materials, Barbara creates a quirky menagerie of metal or textile creatures. The diversity of creatures reflects the variety of materials used. Windscreen wipers, dog leads, keys, cupboard handles, cutlery, biscuit tins, old spanners, metal clips, costume jewellery, Clock and Watch pieces become limbs, wings and body parts. Fibre Arts take Two enjoyed an immersion in Barbara’s love for animals and art.
Almost a vet
Barbara’s youthful passion for animals led to her initially considering pursuing a veterinary career. In the end, she took another direction, “I decided not to become a vet in the end,” she says, “because the animals that I was interested in were the large ones, the horses, the cattle. And at that very naive age of 18-19. When you’re making that decision, I thought, I’m going to spend my life making these animals fit for us humans to use all the time, especially the pigs and the cows. I was idealistic in many respects. Now, I wish I had possibly chosen that career, but life goes on. I joined the BBC, had a daughter and changed careers yet again. Thought ‘I’m going to become a sculptor.’ I’m largely self-taught, but my work goes back to my first love, animals.”
Because Barbara constructs her animals out of bric a brac, she has a vast amount of bits and pieces stored away, “I’ve got one enormous cupboard that’s next to the textile one that’s full of all my bits and pieces,” she says, “I’d like to think they were ordered, like keys are in one box, cutlery is in another costume jewellery is in another, locks are in another, but that doesn’t always happen because I’m not a tidy person.”
Having her huge bits and pieces cupboard can be a boon for Barbara. “When I’m working, I just go to my cupboard,” she says, “I get some of those boxes, and then I get lovely surprises where I think ‘, Oh gosh, there’s that; I remember that there’s a bolt, that’s going to be just right for this place.’”
They exude life
Barbara mostly sculpts animals she has a connection with, “Most of the animals I create tend to be domesticated ones or European animals that I feel I have an affinity to,” she says. “I had a German mother who and we read fairy tales all the time. There’s always a bad wolf or a cunning fox or something in all of those, and that’s in my psyche.”
Outside of fairy tales, animals have always been a part of Barbara’s life, “I’ve always had animals,” she says, “They embody the simpleness of life to me. I have done some sculptures of the human form, but it just doesn’t interest me as much. I love when I go to the park and see a dog running. They live in the moment. I think that’s what I like about animals. They live in the moment, they don’t have a past or history or anything. They’re enjoying life as it is now or not enjoying it, depending on what’s happening. And I like that immediacy of animals and even standing still; they exude life.”
Alive v dead
Barbara had always preferred live animals to the taxidermy specimens found in museums, “We went to the zoo a lot when our daughter was little,” she says, “we’d go every weekend to the zoo, and I’d make up stories. I’d be chatting with our little daughter and making up stories about them. And they’d have little voices and things as you do with a child. But it’s always the live animals.”
All the same, the similarity to taxidermy in Barbara’s work is evident, and it is something she has explored, “About five years ago,” Barbra says, “there was an opportunity to do cheap lessons away to do taxidermy, and I thought, ‘well, I’m interested’. I’m always interested in things.”
Taxidermy was not to Barbrara’s taste! “The poor little white mice bred for feeding to raptors and everything,” she says, “It was a fascinating process. I made it, so it was curled up sleeping; my daughter also made one that was a little musketeer. Afterwards, I just felt disquiet about it, and I had it there, and it felt wrong to me. It felt a disservice to the creature, so I actually buried it in the garden. It just didn’t seem right somehow. But equally, some artists like Polly Morgan, an exemplary fantastic taxidermist who makes political statements with it and I really do like that.”
As with every artist, completing her work comes with challenges for Barbara, “Every single piece goes through a phase where I hate it,” she says, “As with any art thing, there’s that ugly phase that always happens to every single piece, and you then put it to one side and do something, and there’s that little tiny magic moment where it’s not finished by any means, but you suddenly realise it’s now telling me what it wants to be or what you want it to be and it starts coming under your control.”
Working full time
Despite the occasional difficulty, Barbar loves what she does, “I do this full time,” she says, “and I’ll start at nine in the morning, and I’ll go on to about something like six o’clock. But then we now have a one-year-old grandson who lives 10 miles down the road, so obviously, Grandma duty comes in now and again, which is delightful. We also have an allotment so I might do an hour in the allotment. But my working day is full time. And actually, sometimes my husband has to prize me out of here if he wants to go somewhere or see a film because I love it. I can’t not do it. Yeah. Lockdown for me, unfortunately, was actually relatively easy, because I’m just happy in my own company, in my room getting on with things.”
About the artist
Barbara Franc has been a mixed-media sculptor for over 30 years. Animals are her primary inspiration, and she increasingly uses recycled and discarded materials as she enjoys the challenge of transforming something with history into something new and exciting.
Most of Barbara’s pieces are done to private or corporate commission, and she is represented by several galleries but also welcomes any enquiries. If you would like some treasured personal objects that generally sit in drawers to have a new purpose and be seen every day, Barbara is happy for you to get in touch.