Being and Making in New Lebanon: Fused Glass and Free–range Chickens
An interview with artists
Bert + Ann Scherbarth
by Jim Dolan
with Photographs by J R Compton
Somehow, I need to get directions all over again each time I visit the Scherbarths in New Lebanon, just south of the Cedars. This time, Ann gives slightly different directions than before, and I wind up parked behind their building, instead of in front of it, as I have in the past.
Everyone is present and accounted for in the compound once occupied by Half Price Books storage:there is Ann operating the gate, Bert is working in the shop on his current obsession, fused glass; the cats, Black Cherry and Tulia Toofer; the Rottweilers, Eudora Welty and Gretel Gavin; and the four chickens, Violet, Aubrey, Matagorda and Russell Russelle.
I have known Ann for many years, ever since she was a shy teenager who swam with my Masters swim club at the Cooper Fitness Center, coached by Olympian Jerry Heidenreich, during holiday breaks from her school swim team. While at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, Ann studied painting and art history on a swimming scholarship (backstroke).
In the last few years, Ann has taken up and excelled in the excruciatingly difficult sport of competitive rowing, or crew as some call it.
Since graduation from college with a degree in Art History, she has immersed herself in the Dallas art world while continuing her involvement with the Cooper Fitness Center swim club, only now as coach, since Heidenreich's suicide in 2002.
Albert 'Bert' Scherbarth came to Texas in 1979 from Kansas City, where he studied at the Art Institute, to get a graduate degree in print making from University of Dallas. He completed M.F.A. and M.A. degrees studying under Lyle Novinski and Jurgen Strunk.
I had left UD a few years prior to Bert's arrival, so we know many of the same names and faces from that era, although we never met until he got involved with Ann (Pritchett) a few years ago.
Bert and Ann are pivotal figures in the Cedars/New Lebanon artists' colony. Bert has maintained living and or working space for many years at the Continental Gin Building in Deep Ellum, from which he is phasing out as he concentrates his efforts in the current location.
Ann and Bert met when she took studio space at the CGB in the late 90s after returning home from a post-graduate stint as a swim coach in the US Virgin Islands. They collaborated on projects of Bert's and things 'went from there.'
Bert and Ann invited me into the chain linked, iron gated, steel cabled compound that is a must in a neighborhood teeming with those whom Bert refers to as 'shelter resistant' If it is not literally fastened to the earth itself, it will be stolen.
Nevertheless, there is something deeply appealing about their tiny, verdant farmstead on the blasted post-Industrial prairie of Dallas/New Lebanon. It is completely a work in progress, a raw hunk out of which they are carving their lives.
As I come to discover in our interview, Ann and Bert's current 'piece' is their way of life.
We begin with Bert telling me about a gig he has been working with some people who are building a bar in downtown Dallas. Bert has been hired to help the owners / builders / designers 'figure shit out.'
Jim: An hourly rate to figure shit out?
Bert: Wonderful. It's wonderful. Finally, I got — I told Keith, I said, you know, I'm good for about 4 hours a day and then it ends, can't do it, ya know?
Bert: That would be my prime time, 10 to 2.
Bert:: Anyway, it's been great. We got a welder guy, ya know, doing the welding, we got another doing some other stuff. Keith's out there getting jobs and I'm taking the information and ya know, synthesizing and spitting it out, so....
Bert: So, it's fun. Getting paid for my brain, for what I know and stuff.
Bert is a big guy, with big rough hands from his daily labor. Nearing fifty, if not already there, he has a bundle of black snakes for hair, with only the beginnings of silver along his hairline.
He grabs a blank sheet from a sketch book and his hands doodle and draw throughout the remainder of our interview. The two Rottweilers circle the kitchen/living space in which we are seated, which is situated at one end of the gigantic warehouse space in which the Scherbarth's live and work.
Ann seats herself at the center kitchen island next to Bert, shy but intently focused on the interview process, and allowing Bert to do much of the talking.
Jim: Right. You were working in Oak Cliff too this summer, weren't you? Weren't you doing something???
Bert: A big old...
Jim: Landscaping or ...
Bert: Big old deck. I'm a deck master.
Jim: You are?
Bert: Yeah ... built one ... did one over here too.
Jim: You did?
When the opportunity arises, Bert makes money by 'building shit.' He is one of those guys who can fabricate anything. Give him an idea of what you are looking for, a general outline, and he will devise a method and create it. He 'builds shit.'
Bert: So what's going on here? What are we doing?
Jim: What are we doing? Well, ya know. Um. I had talked to J R a while back about, ya know, about doing some writing projects for for DallasArtsRevue.
Bert: On the internet thing?
Jim: Yeah. Have you looked at Dallas Arts Revue?
I know that, well I know that Bert, you've been here for a long time, and I've met countless people that know you or claim to have known you for years, and thought that would be a pretty interesting interview to just kind of tap some of that history — since?
Bert: Since 1979.
Jim: Since 1979, I knew that. You came down here to go to UD in '79, right? (yrs trly gradded University of Dallas in 1975 in Psych.)
Bert: Cuz I had to. it was warm. I lived in Nebraska and Texas was happening on the arts scene and the art, good, good program out there at UD, real cheap, I mean free, ya know, good ____ making program.
Jim: It was free?
Jim: Why was it free?
Bert: Because of stipends. I mean you get the tuition waived and then you get a stipend; someone will put them on.
Jim: But that was a degreed program, wasn't it?
Bert: Yeah, MFA. Yeah, yeah. All I had to do was get along with Jurgen Strunk. So, I gotta out of there pretty fast.
Jim: (Laughing) Cuz one can only get along with Jurgen for so long.
Bert: Yeah, or the Admiral Novinski.
Continued in Part 2
See Ann and Bert Scherbarth, their home and their art on the Cedars Open Studios Saturday, November 20, 2004
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