Former Avant Garde owner Barker dies in Santa Fe
James Barker, a former co-owner of the Avant Garde coffeehouse on Prospect Avenue in the 1960s, died Nov. 5 in Santa Fe, after reportedly falling ill in October.
Barker -- an accomplished guitarist -- and Gordy Simon purchased the Avant Garde, which was the epicenter of Milwaukee's counterculture during its brief life span, in late 1966 or early 1967, and owned it until it closed in late 1968.
According to Avant Garde regular Mark Goff, Barker -- who was nicknamed "Jimmy Two Feathers" -- was "a major figure in the beat/hippie/arts scene. He had become a significant national/international figure as a jewelry-maker but kept his ties to Milwaukee through friends and family."
Barker's love for Milwaukee rock bands like The Baroques and The Velvet Whip changed the feel of the Avant Garde, which, before his tenure, had hosted strictly acoustic folk and blues performers. Barker and Simon continued to host the poetry readings and film nights begun by their predecessors.
Barker, who was born in Milwaukee in 1941 and attended the Layton School of Art, moved to Hopeland, Calif. in the early 1970s where his passion for making jewelry flourished and he won numerous awards for his work, including a Gold Award in 1983 and a third-place finish in Japan's International Pearl Competition.
Barker moved to Santa Fe in 1988.
"When I think of James, I think of him as an occasional curmudgeon, a title I think he would readily cop to, considering his ongoing disappointment with the current political administration, (although he might not call it that)," says his friend Lisa Bialac-Jehle, of Topanga, Calif. "I also think of him as a hopeful idealist. He wanted the world to step up to the plate, and fully expected at any moment that everyone would come to their senses and do the right thing.
"James and I became pretty good pals in the past year. I am also a jeweler; I make one-of-a-kind work in silver and gold and had recently taken the plunge into working in 22k. James was really helpful with technique and information. Always very generous and open, besides telling me when he thought that something I made was good, or as he put it, 'sucked.'"
Goff says that some of the old Avant Garde gang will reunite to celebrate Barker's life.
"Some of us old counterculture types are throwing a memorial for him next Sunday, Nov. 20, at 2 p.m. at Von Trier. We're putting together a display of the posters he did for the performances at The Garde."
Read our article on the Avant Garde here.
Ceci said: I was 17 years old, it was 1968. To say it poeticaly it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I idolized my brother Henry, one of the members of the Velvet Whip, and fell madly for at least one member of the band. Those were the days. I drank my first mug of capuccino at the Garde ,tasted life in many different ways that year, and survived it all with just a few scars. I grew up fast that year too. It was a time in my life I will never forget. Thanks for the memories.
Dan Ball said: It was the winter of our discontent, the meeting of old memories to see the past and relive some of the moments we had in common through the James Barker Memorial on that gray Sunday at Von Trier’s. About 30-50 people showed up. It was hard to keep count as the memories marched forward. Some of the notable counter-culture types were there like Bob Reitmen and John Sahli, creators of the poetry inspired Lift and progenitors of Kaleidoscope, the brief shining alternative newspaper. Bob, in all his grace, gentleness and good humor, led the few eulogies in Barker’s honor along with a few humorous anecdotes from others. It was good to see some of the colorful characters again like Dirty John aka Flame, Wah, The Richard and Henry from the Velvet Whip and try to place some of the others whose names had passed from my memory. The curse of aging had rendered most of us unrecognizable to the others. I suppose nametags could have helped. It was nice to see James’ old partner, Gordie Simons and the original owner Harold Strohmeier in attendance. Photographer Jim Middleton brought a number of his photos so we could see the glory of our youth and Jim Barker dressed up like a biker Santa. Though the memorial was about James Barker, it was also a celebration of the Sixties Milwaukee scene and the people who were the heart and soul of it. James had given it a place to be, the movement’s clubhouse, open to all for the price of a sub and a concert. Our thanks go out to all those like Mark Goff who helped to make the memorial happen and to those who attended. For all of you who heard of Sixties in Milwaukee but were too young, You shoulda been there. It was quite a wild ride.
Mark Goff said: For all of us who reunited at Jim Barker's memorial at Von Trier on November 20, we owe him a debt of gratitude. Without Jim and the Avant-Garde many of us would never have met and formed these lasting friendships and memories.
Beverly Housekeeper (nee Berg) said: Spent many a memorable hour at the Avant Garde with my girlfriend, Judy Grabowski who died in 1967. Have never found another place like it.
Kate Barker-Dorn said: I want to say thank you on behalf of the Barker family for all the heartfelt comments about my uncle, and for such a well written tribute. He was an extraordinary person who made an impact on so many peoples lives.
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