When she was getting ready to go to the University of Michigan, Chairwoman of Art Barbara Bushey had a tough decision to make.
“I was trying to decide between art and physics,” Bushey said. “And as I told my father, ‘I can always paint on weekends, but I can’t have a cyclotron in my basement.’ I went into physics.”
Like many college students, Bushey ended up changing her major. And instead of physics, she earned a degree in psychology.
All her life, Bushey said she was making something. It’s no surprise, then, that she went on to art school at Eastern Michigan University a semester after graduating from UM. Bushey earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in both graphic design and textiles there, before moving onto Eastern Michigan University for her Master of Fine Arts in textiles.
During her time at graduate school, Bushey experienced “the sort of mad scientist” aspect of art, realizing that she could dye her own fabrics.
“I was working on this piece that had this kind of sandy-colored fabric, and then I needed more,” Bushey said. “I was able to dye more and get it to match exactly. And so I marched into my adviser’s office and said, ‘Look what I did, I want my degree now,’ and they go, ‘Yeah, now go back to work.’”
Rachael Reynolds ’18, who took every art class Bushey offers, said Bushey never compromises with any of her projects.
“She spends hours on these things,” Reynolds said. “I would never spend that much time on something unless I was certain it would turn out amazing, and she makes sure that it does.”
After finishing her graduate studies, Bushey decided to pursue a career in teaching, something she’s been doing her whole life, as the oldest of five children.
She had begun teaching part time at many schools in southeastern Michigan as an “itinerant scholar,” but said she was looking for a change in pace. At the same time, Hillsdale College needed a full-time art professor for one year, and Bushey decided to apply for the position.
“They liked me, and I liked it here,” Bushey said. “They just kept putting me on the schedule. Finally, they decided they should keep me.”
Bushey said it was nice to finally have a place to call home.
“This place is so lovely because we have so much support from the administration, we have such good students – people who want to learn – we have dedicated faculty,” Bushey said. “My colleagues are all committed teachers and kind and generous human beings, and just the whole atmosphere of searching for the truth together is a real wonder.”
Reynolds experienced this wonder the first time she took a class with Bushey. Originally an exercise science major playing softball, Reynolds experienced an injury and had to stop playing. She said she needed to find a new creative outlet.
“When I first sat down with her to talk with her about potentially adding an art major, we got along really well,” Reynolds said. “She’s kinda goofy, but she’s also very straightforward, and I very much liked that.”
Hillsdale’s art department made it possible for Reynolds to stay a fifth year and pick up an art major. Reynolds said she considers having somebody like Bushey in her life one of the biggest blessings coming out of Hillsdale’s art program.
“My last semester, she was on sabbatical, and so I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, no. She can’t be on sabbatical my final semester,’” Reynolds said. “I didn’t see her as frequently, but she still carved out time to make sure that she was there for me through the grad school process, through the job search process, and even now, she’s randomly mailed me clothes that she thought I would like.”
During her time as a student, Reynolds said she went to Bushey for advice all of the time, even if it had nothing to do with school.
“That was huge for me in college,” Reynolds said. “She cared about me as a human.”
When making big life decisions, Reynolds still goes to Bushey for advice.
“She’s one of the first people I text to bounce off about my art stuff just because I know her advice will be unbiased, and I appreciate that,” Reynolds said. “She’s still helping me even though I don’t go to Hillsdale anymore.”
Around three months ago, Bushey told Reynolds she was going to make a quilt based off of Reynolds’ photo of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Barbara Bushey is making a quilt from my photo.’ I guess that made me sound like a four-year-old girl, but she had looked at something I had made and was like, ‘Oh, I can get inspiration from that.’”
As a professor at Hillsdale, Bushey teaches three upper level art history classes, two basic art survey classes, and one basic design class. Bushey said she enjoys teaching the upper level classes because the class sizes are generally smaller and lead to interesting discussions, but she loves teaching the survey classes.
“It’s all the people who kind of come in, like, ‘Alright, alright, it’s a core requirement,’” Bushey said. “And then by the end of the semester, they’re like, ‘well, this was really interesting.’ And that’s always good.”
Sophomore Abby Leali, who is looking to add an art minor, said she took a Renaissance to Modern Art History class with Bushey and is currently in the Baroque Art History class.
Leali said Bushey’s classes are refreshing because Bushey cares very much about art, but she cares more about her students.
“She’s the reason I love the Baroque Period as much as I do,” Leali said. “I took the Baroque class because I loved Renaissance so much. It’s a really good way to just kind of get away from the strict and really hard classes for a little while, but then also still learn quite a bit of the different periods.”
Sophomore and art major Heidi Yacoubian said Bushey’s art history lectures are always memorable.
“She has a very quirky sense of humor that really lightens the mood,” Yacoubian said.
Yacoubian said Bushey has helped her to understand her own art better by offering many different perspectives when studying artists from the past.
“She helps you see the development of art and kind of makes sense of what you do as an artist and the purpose for creating it,” Yacoubian said.
During her freshman year, Yacoubian took Bushey’s basic design class. Her favorite memories with Bushey come from this class.
“There’s a quilt in Professor Bushey’s exhibit, and it has all the pictures of her in funky outfits,” Yacoubian siad. “She took those while I was in the design class. Maybe every day or every week, Rachael Reynolds would go out in the hallway and take a picture of her outfit. Now it’s fun because I get to see the quilts, and I remember her outfits.”
In addition to memorable classes, Yacoubian said she admires Bushey for how well she leads the art department at Hillsdale College.
“She contributes a lot, and I know she’s helped me a lot as a student,” Yacoubian said. “She really wants to do a lot for the school and that shows in her work.”
Leali, Yacoubian, and Reynolds all said Bushey is one of the most talented people they have ever met.
“She’s amazing at what she does, but extremely humble,” Yacoubian said. “I think what makes her an excellent professor.”
Reynolds said she could not have found a more hard-working mentor.
“The things that she does with these quilts, it’s incredible,” Reynolds said. “I could gush about Barbara Bushey all day.”