Latrobe calligrapher does ‘God’s work’ |
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Shirley McMarlin
Artist Virginia “Ginny” Barnett, owner of Faithfull Calligraphy, works on a painting in her Latrobe home studio, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016.

With no formal training in art or business, Ginny Barnett of Latrobe has become both an artist and a businesswoman.

Yet she is quick to deflect credit for the success of her Faithfull Calligraphy to the one she says is ultimately responsible: “I only do God’s work.”

Building the business has been a journey of faith from first taking a pen in hand to later launching a website to sell her creations. Through it all, Barnett says her artwork has been more about obedience to God than about artistic recognition or making money.

“I record my journey for me, because I’m forgetful and I need to remember how God has worked in my life,” she says. “Each (piece) is a testimony to that. He can work with anyone’s hands. He just chose mine.”

That her hands would be used is especially significant, Barnett says, because she often struggles to use them due to her systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease with symptoms that can include joint pain and swelling, tingling and weakness in the hands, fatigue, anemia and organ damage.

Symptoms that began when she was 22 went undiagnosed until 2008, some 30 years later. During that time, she sometimes struggled not to give in to fear but, looking back, can even find providence in that journey.

“Lupus and its symptoms are elusive. I see God’s hand in that because he protected me from the untreated lupus,” she says. “When it was diagnosed, it hadn’t affected my internal organs.”

A Bible verse or scripture-based inspirational message is at the core of each of her works. Starting in 2005 with wallet cards containing Bible verses and simple illustrations, she has branched out into matted and framed pieces as large as 11-by-14 inches. Subsequent additions to her inventory include a 60-day devotional, bookmarks, Christmas tree ornaments and other decorative items.

She recently completed a booklet called “Handling Illness.”

Barnett says she looks at the process of developing the booklet as “good and more good. Such good has come to me through it and (God) can turn it into more good for someone else.”

Each page contains a piece of art, information on how it was created and a meditation on how its message can be used in dealing with “the roller coaster ups and downs” of chronic illness.

With bachelor’s degrees in physical education and nursing and a master’s degree in education, Barnett says she never thought of herself as an especially creative person. She dabbled in calligraphy during her undergrad years at the University of California Davis, with a roommate who practiced the art.

Her introduction to commercial art came in 1985, when she began working in Ligonier with Nan Keenan, who practiced floriography, the art of using images of particular flowers to convey specific meaning.

“My job was painting in the flowers she drew,” she says.

Eventually, the pair began incorporating Bible verses into the works.

“I chose the verses and did the lettering,” Barnett says.

Gradually, she began doing her own designs to give away as gifts and then began the process of offering them for sale.

Simple pen-and-ink line drawings progressed to experimentation with pointillism and then to watercolors, acrylics, watercolor pencils, watercolor batik and the use of different types of paper.

Barnett does most of her own production work, scanning and printing the finished artworks, and matting and framing the larger prints. A local printing company handles the booklets.

Customers find her mostly by word of mouth and through her website. Items also are sold at Rooted Together Gifts in White Oak, at several area faith-based events during the year and at an annual Christmas open house in her home.

Though commercial success was never her aim and promoting her work still is difficult, she says, “I make enough to support my habit.”

Referring to a Bible passage that warns against blowing a trumpet to call attention to one’s good deeds, she says, “I’m trying to figure out a balance. I would rather just paint. I’ve been waiting for someone to come along and market for me.”

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750 or [email protected].

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