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Elver Barker aka Carl B. Harding was and artist, teacher, gay and human rights activist who was one of the early officers of the Mattachine Society and an editor of the Mattachine Review.

Elver Amos Barker was born in Newcastle, WY in 1920. Being a specialist in organizing, he had been a social-change activist since 1942 in the non-violence movements for a warless world of brotherhood and justice for all. He was also active in the Rocky Mountain Skeptics for a rational alternative to the pseudo-sciences.

His AB in Education was from the University of Denver. His major art training in representational oils and pastels was under the late Arthur W. Palmer and Thomas Leighton in San Francisco. He had also attended workshops taught by Daniel E. Greene, Ben Konis, Mel Fillerup, and the late Merlin Enabnit and George Cherepov.

While he painted a wide variety of subjects, one of his specialties was still lifes... the beauty in simple things. Through extensive experimentation he developed finger painting in transparent oils, in which, as many effects are achieved by the removal of colors as by their application, leaving the color of the support showing through. His book Finger painting in oils was published by D. Van Nostrand in 1968. The artist's specialty in this unique technique was gnarled trees, especially Bristlecone Pines at timberline which he photographed and used as models. Natural woodgrain patterns were produced by the whorls on the thumb. After 30 years of further experimenting, he was working on a revised edition, Finger Painting in Transparent Non-toxic Oils.

The artist had also developed feather painting in transparent oils... abstract expressionism symbolizing the sounds of music. Some of these were rhythm paintings... done after and while listening to music. After publication of his book, Elver was interviewed on channel 9 (in Denver). The photographer focused on several of his oil finger and feather paintings while he described them. That weekend May-D&F had a large display of his finger works in the window for two days. During that time he demonstrated the technique in the book department and autographed sold copies of his book. He was also interviewed by the late Bill Barker and Mrs. Barker on KOA radio (in Denver).

"Today's Art" devoted five pages to his well-illustrated article: Finger painting in Transparent Oils". The artist had had 39 years experience in teaching drawing and featherpainting in transparent oils in Wyoming, South Dakota and Colorado. He had given lecture demonstrations and workshops on his finger and feather painting in these states and also in Nebraska and Kansas. One of his oil finger paintings "Christmas at Timberline" was published on a Christmas card by the former Lazy BL ranch publishers in Cheyenne.

Just before Christmas 1982, the people in all of his classes surprised him by converging on his studio during class and presented him with a check to go to Hawaii to photograph flowers, something he had long wanted to do. Two representatives from Channel 2 News were there. He went to Hawaii in late March, after the rainy season, visited three islands for three weeks, and took over 300 photographs of flowers from which he and his students are still painting. He liked to greatly enlarge flowers for their decorative value, having been inspired to do this after seeing the work of Georgia O'Keefe.

Elver was rated qualified by a jury of the Rotary Club to submit each year, Three slides of his paintings for consideration as entries in the annual Artists of America exhibit sponsored by the Rotary Club and the Colorado Historical Society. Most of the exhibitors were big name artists, but the work of a few lesser-known artists had been selected each year. Because of the large number of lesser-known artists competing, he never achieved this goal.

In 1953, he lost his job at the Alameda County welfare office when a supervisor figured out that Barker was gay. He then became among the most active members of the Mattachine Society. Out of fear for losing his job as a schoolteacher for being a gay activist, he operated under the name Carl B. Harding, which he signed to articles he wrote, letters to the editor of local newspapers and when quoted in newspaper reports. "We were afraid we'd lose our jobs," Barker recall to Westword on the occassion of the 1999 Gay Pride Parade. "I loved my work," Barker said of one lost job. "But one day, my supervisor said to me, 'We all live in glass houses around here.' And when he said that, I knew I was being discriminated against."

Barker also edited the Mattachine Education Handbook, “a resource dedicated to fighting discriminatory policies such as a standard practice that law enforcement agencies used to illegally entrap gays.”

In 1956, Elver moved to Denver to become a teacher and established a local Mattachine Society. His role with the Mattachine is documented in the book Behind the Mask of the Mattachine to be released in the Fall of 2006. His correspondence as a Mattachine Officer is preserved in the New York Public Library.


  1. http://www.tyleralpern.com/ElverBarker.html