When Robin Barcus went to be interviewed as a volunteer for an art program at Irene’s, a daytime women’s shelter in Wicker Park where women can create art as a form of therapy, one of the first things she saw was the paintings of Barbara Jean Lindsay. “When I walked into that shelter and I saw her artwork papering the walls,” says Barcus, a 1993 graduate of the School of the Art Institute, “I felt the same way I do when I walk into a gallery and see an artist that really clicks.”

Lindsay–who for more than ten years has lived at the overnight shelter, Deborah’s Place, that runs Irene’s–constantly adds to her store of sensual and religious paintings, sculptures, and ceramics. “While waiting for one painting to dry she’s working on several ceramic sculptures,” Barcus says. Among those ceramic pieces is a nude Jesus embracing Motown singer Mary Wells, which Lindsay created shortly after Wells’s death to symbolize her welcome into heaven.

Lindsay’s art reminded Barcus of the work of the late Lee Godie, who achieved a kind of fame as the homeless woman who sold her paintings on the steps of the Art Institute. “She has the same kind of originality and distinctive aesthetic that Lee Godie had, though I would argue with more variety–her pieces are more individual, more expressive.”

Barcus knew that Lindsay had had a small showing of her art at a local gallery, and she wanted to organize a show that included Godie paintings and work by the women at Irene’s, including lots of Lindsay’s pieces. She pitched the idea to several galleries, all of which rejected it or wanted an exhibition fee she couldn’t pay. Then Barcus, who also works as assistant to the director of Plum Line, got permission from her boss to bring the show to the Evanston gallery.

Barcus found a Godie collector who allowed her to borrow whatever works she wanted. She also scoured alleyways and thrift shops for chairs that the women at the shelter could paint for the show. And she interviewed Lindsay–who gave answers full of what Barcus calls “poetic ramblings”–for a short biography that would be displayed at the show. Lindsay said she was born 57 years ago in Buffalo, New York, and came to Chicago as a child. Barcus asked her when she began painting, and Lindsay told her, “I have no beginning. It was with me when I came into the world. No beginning and no end–from everlasting to everlasting.”

Thirty of Lindsay’s pieces, along with works by Godie and by other women at Irene’s, will be on exhibit through December 1 at Plum Line, 1503 Chicago in Evanston; hours are 11 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday. The artists receive 60 percent of any sales. For more information call 847-328-7586.

–Cheryl Ross

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Robin Barcus photo by Robert Drea/ Head by Barbara Jean Lindsay.