BOONE LIFE: Community, inspiration motivate artist and nude model

Thursday, March 10, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:33 a.m. CST, Thursday, March 10, 2011

COLUMBIA — After working at a nonprofit social work agency for two years, Susannah Barry made a resolution to only do work she felt could help her improve herself.

"I dreaded going to work, not for the fact that I didn't want to be helping people or doing advocacy, but because the overall environment and the staff in crisis provided no support," she said.

Her dissatisfaction with the job turned into a catalyst that led her to less conventional jobs, such as tending to horses, process serving, doing investigative work for lawyers and substitute-teaching at a nursery school.

"I made a promise to myself not to stay somewhere for two years just because I was too scared to leave," she said. "So now I'm odd-jobbing it."

One job has remained a constant, however. For the past three years, on most Saturdays and Sundays, Barry has been a nude model for a class of artists and students at MU. She was introduced to the class by her friend and roommate Jennah Beilgard, whom she met while studying photojournalism at MU.

"I thought it would be a challenge to see what it would feel like," Barry said about her initial attraction to figure modeling.

"There's much more nervousness leading up to getting on the stand than actually being on the stand," she said. "The first time I modeled I was expecting it to be something bigger — more scary — but when you take off your robe, it really doesn't feel like you're naked in front of a bunch of people."

"It's not nearly as self-conscious as you'd think. The first 30 seconds are quickly replaced with boredom," she added jokingly.

Barry usually makes $40 to $50 for a three-hour modeling session, an amount she appreciates but isn't motivated by.

"It's not a job; it's just a bonus that they give me money for my time," she said. "What I gain from it is much more than the monetary perk."

What keeps Barry going back is the shared experience of community. Even though she is a muse to the artists, she says the inspiration is mutual — as a photographer, she leaves the class feeling inspired with a "laundry list" of ideas to look up.

"It's kind of my time to be still and to think," she said. "It's more meditative than anything."

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