Barney Sellers (1926–2012)

Professional photographer Barney Sellers, a native of Walnut Ridge (Lawrence County), accumulated many honors in his lifetime, including a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. His photographs of Arkansas barns, old houses, and rural scenes attracted many fans of his work and aspiring followers to northeastern Arkansas and the Ozarks.

Born on March 28, 1926, to John and Edith Sellers, Barney Bryan Sellers was the younger of two sons. He grew up in Walnut Ridge, where he graduated from high school in 1944. Following high school, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served two years aboard the USS De Haven. In the navy, he served in an administrative capacity and advanced to the rank of yeoman third class (YN3).

Sellers married Betty Sue Rainwater, also of Walnut Ridge, on January 1, 1948. The couple had three children: sons Stanley and Richard and daughter Susie. That same year, he enrolled at what is now Arkansas State University (ASU), using the newly available GI Bill to fund his degree in journalism.

In 1952, he joined the staff of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee. During his thirty-six-year career at the newspaper, his photography covered the rise of Elvis Presley and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as well as civil rights marches and activities of local and national dignitaries, politicians, business leaders, and many others. His work received many honors, including a 1973 nomination for the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for news photography. Other publications, including Life magazine, also featured his news photography. Sellers retired from the Commercial Appeal in 1988.

Sellers’s love of rural photography led to his post-retirement occupation of teaching continuing-education photography workshops and the development of his business: Barney’s Barns and Rural Scenes. His photography developed a substantial following, leading to exhibits of his work around the Mid-South, including at ASU, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock (Pulaski County), and several libraries. He also began an annual and highly successful one-man show at which people could see his work and buy prints. This event was held annually in Black Rock (Lawrence County) from 1978 through 2005.

His photographs are significant in documenting the vernacular architecture and rural landscapes of Arkansas and surrounding states. Focused on old barns, log cabins, bridges, churches, businesses, and other early manmade structures, these photographs are all that survive of many of his subjects.

Sellers died on January 2, 2012, at his home in Southaven, Mississippi, just one day after his sixty-fourth wedding anniversary. At his request, the family spread his ashes at Calico Rock (Izard County), his favorite scenic view and a recurring subject in his photographs.

In 2015, the Sellers family donated his rural photography work to the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives, a branch of the Arkansas History Commission. This collection includes thousands of images of barns, churches, schools, stores, farmsteads, and wildlife, all taken in Arkansas.

For additional information:
Barney Sellers Collection. Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives, Powhatan, Arkansas.

Obituary of Barney Sellers. Walnut Ridge Times Dispatch, January 4, 2012. Online at http://www.thetd.com/freepages/2012-01-04/viewpoints/frankly.php (accessed January 5, 2016).

Lisa Perry
Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives

Last Updated: 04/13/2016