UNCG Magazine

The art and heart of Minerva’s sculptor

Each spring at midterms and final exam time, Spartans leave apples and coins – thought to bring good luck – at the Minerva sculpture. The artist who created this work is UNCG alumnus Jim Barnhill, who first sculpted live models here as a master’s student at UNCG.

Jim Barnhill ’82 MFA, featured in the Spring 2018 UNCG Magazine, is one of the most celebrated sculptors in North’s Carolina’s history. Of all the visual arts, sculpture requires great physicality. Sculpting the clay at full size, creating the mold, firing the mold to burn out the wax, pouring the molten bronze, removing it, applying the finish, then soldering the parts of the statue, touching it up as needed, and seeing it mounted perfectly. Cleaning his statues occasionally – including UNCG’s Minerva – is something he has done over the years, too.

Last summer, Jim Barnhill had a major stroke. “Rehab is going swimmingly,” he said in a recent video call interview. After nine months of rehab, “A walker and cane is what I use the most” to do work and get around, he said. To strengthen his speech, he participates in an aphasia group led by Dr. Jessica Obermeyer and Sena Crutchley, faculty members in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department at UNCG. 

2018 video, UNCG Magazine.

As one of Greensboro’s most influential artists, his career is marked by three works that have molded the city’s self-image. He created the General Greene statue in downtown Greensboro. He created the iconic statue of the Greensboro Four at NC A&T, where he has taught art since 1996.

He was commissioned two decades ago to create the Minerva statue at UNCG, a gift from the Class of 1953. A work unlike earlier versions of Minerva seen on this campus, it was cast verdigris, giving the metal a greenish tint, “like it came from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea,” he once said. (See 2018 video, above.)

Her outstretched arms were his idea. “In conceiving Minerva, I was looking for a figure with both movement and a stillness, like she’d be standing there for a while and would continue to stand there for a while. Not some wild gesticulated motion, but just a very quiet sort of thing,” he told us for the magazine feature. “With a very stern gaze and the gesture beckoning to come in – and then the other arm gesturing to go out.”

Jim Barnhill with lab-collie Ellie, Feb. 2022. Courtesy photo.

That beckoning gesture with the one arm – coupled with her gesture to then go out and make your mark on the world – has inspired students and passersby ever since.

In the past several years, he has created a maquette of Martin Luther King, currently at NC A&T’s Frazier Hall. He created a maguette of Maya Angelou for a West Coast competition.

And he has continued his painting as well. As he continues to rehab, painting will be his focus, he said.

Large painting Barnhill will exhibit at Greenhill H2O show. Courtesy photo.

The effects of the stroke have influenced how he approaches it. “Drawing with my left hand is what I will do,” he says. His outstanding work continues.

“Onward and upward.”

See several of Barnhill’s works from the past several years “H2O” exhibition opening March 5 at the Greenhill in downtown Greensboro. A July exhibition there will display several other works by him, as well

By Mike Harris, UNCG Magazine
Photography by Martin W. Kane and two photos courtesy Jim Barnhill

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