Former professor boosts local art scene

Former professor boosts local art scene

Artist, teacher, student, gallery co-founder, writer and pioneer in the Topeka art community all describe the many roles Barbara Waterman-Peters filled over the many years she spent involved in the arts.

Waterman-Peters has been co-chair of the Arts and Culture Alliance for the Heartland Visioning Project in Topeka since 2009, and through that has been, and continues to be, an important part of the development of the North Topeka Arts District.

She also writes for “TOPEKA Magazine.” She recently finished working on an article in which she had invited artists to submit an image or two on the subject of health. Waterman-Peters then chose pieces to be featured and wrote about the pieces and artists selected.

Waterman-Peters has been involved with art since her years spent as a small child. In the 1950s, when she was in elementary school, she received early encouragement from teachers.

“I had wonderful art teachers in junior high and high school, and certainly college and graduate school,” said Waterman-Peters. “I took advantage of every opportunity that came along.”

Waterman-Peters is a Washburn graduate. She received her bachelor of fine art in 1973.  In 1998, she got a masters in fine art from Kansas State University. She was a professor at Washburn from 1985-1996. She also taught at Kansas State.

As a professor, Waterman-Peters taught many classes, including: drawing, black and white design, color design, mixed media, oil and watercolor painting and intro to the arts, a class for non-art majors.

“I worked with senior students on projects,” said Waterman-Peters. “I didn’t teach art history or photography. I usually taught two classes a semester.”

She speaks fondly of her time spent as a professor at Washburn.

“I enjoyed the interaction with the students,” said Waterman-Peters. “I enjoyed the energy around the campus and the other faculty. It was a very satisfying time in my life. I still stay in touch with some of my students and, of course, the faculty.”

In 1987, Waterman-Peters helped co-found the Collective Art Gallery. It opened at its first location in August of that year. It is now in its third location.

Waterman-Peters and all the other co-founders attended or graduated from the Washburn art program. They would get together to discuss their artwork, experiences as artists and the lack of enough places in Topeka to show their work. They also would enjoy wine, cheese and each other’s company.

Waterman-Peters said they realized they had something going and the Collective Art Gallery began. In 1987, the gallery was the only one to have their openings on the first Friday of the month. Other galleries did other days at that time. Now largely due to Arts Connect of Topeka, the First Friday Artwalk is huge in Topeka.

“We have gone from the Collective having the only First Friday gallery openings to maybe 30 venues on first Friday evening,” said Waterman-Peters. “We are thrilled to death. It’s so exciting.”

Waterman-Peters is excited to have watched the art community in Topeka grow and change over the years. She feels the Topeka art scene is thriving and continuing to grow.

“The potential has always been here, but it didn’t seem to happen until the last few years,” said Waterman-Peters. “We have had marvelous things in this city forever, but now we are all working together and making it successful.”

She will soon be moving her studio outside her home and into the developing NOTO Art District site. Her emphasis has always been painting and describes oil and watercolor as her favorite mediums.

Waterman-Peters says she has always enjoyed having people as a subject of her work. She also talks about how, when she began her undergraduate studies in the 1960s, this was not a popular subject matter for artists.

“At that time, it was considered passé,” said Waterman-Peters. “It just wasn’t in. We were encouraged to study figurative drawing, but not to put it into our serious art. That was rather hard to take because that was what I really wanted to do.”

Because of this experience, Waterman-Peters primarily did landscapes and maps, and aside from the occasional portrait avoided using the human figure as a subject matter for her art. She received notice from critics on her landscapes and maps.

In the 1990s, Waterman-Peters began incorporating figures into her work. She described them as first “small and shadowy.” Later the figures became larger. Peters also began at this time to examine the roles of women in society, as well as stereotypes surrounding them.

“I began to do images where women were depicted as old crows, old hags, old this or that,” said Waterman-Peters. “Women are called awful things, cows and old hens. The list goes on and on.”

She then went on to do pieces where women were depicted missing parts of the body, like: arms, breasts and hair. In one such piece, a woman has a crow’s head. She describes these pieces as “nightmarish.” After doing research, Waterman-Peters discovered that much of the work at that time related to archetypes of women.

“The bird woman is an archetypal figure going back to mythology,” said Waterman-Peters. “These figures show up in cultures all over the world.”

It was after immersing herself in research related to these topics that Waterman-Peters decided to go on to go to graduate school. She describes graduate school as an “eye opening experience.” She also says she feels it was a good thing she went at that point and not later on.

“I am glad I didn’t go to graduate school earlier because at the time I went I was able to appreciate it better,” said Waterman-Peters. “I had great professors who pointed me in directions I would never have thought to go in. It also got me away from the nightmarish figures and into more naturalistic figures…the metaphors became more subtle and less obvious.”

Waterman-Peters’ more recent work involves women made up like clowns. She has been doing work on her women series for over 15 years now. She also continues to do landscapes and other work. She feels this helps her to not become burnt out on any one subject


Waterman-Peters continues to create art and frequently participates in exhibitions. She was awarded a certificate of recognition for contributions to the state of Kansas in 2003. She also was invited to design the image for the 2008 Sunflower Music Festival.

Waterman-Peters has a website showing many of her more recent works, as well as a list of exhibits, a statement on her series and links to galleries. The address is