Artist Jeff Barrett didn’t set out to be a wood carver. Then again, he also never imagined he’d wind up living and working in this medium in Maine. Formally trained as a glass blower, he established himself as a master in that medium over the course of some 20 years before exchanging blowpipe for chisel.
Barrett, who studied at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio, began his career working at Denver’s respected Blake Street Glass Studio in the 1980s and ’90s. When the city’s landscape began rapidly changing, Barrett and his wife, Cindy, decided to exchange Denver for new territory.
On a remote tract along the Colorado–New Mexico border, Barrett opened his first shop, Whistling Bird Designs, where he began transforming antique wood and other found objects into the fanciful creations that are now associated with his name.
After a close friend moved to Maine, the Barretts followed suit. “When I first heard that he had moved to Maine, of all places, I thought he was nuts,” acknowledges Barrett. “But 10 years in the Southwestern hinterlands was enough.”
Today, Barrett is settled on the Midcoast, just shy of Belfast, where he has since traded an arsenal of Southwestern motifs, which informed his early three-dimensional reliefs in wood, for subjects that draw on Maine’s rich supply of maritime idioms.
"Using recycled wood from barns and sheds, along with found objects and handforged metal, I craft each piece one at a time," says Barrett. "These are my versions of antique paintings, vintage weathervanes, and my theater sets featuring fish, birds, dogs and cats, whales and ships as the actors in my folk art and wood sculptures. I have a whale of a good time making them and hope you enjoy!"
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What artist or sculpture do you admire most?
There are quite a few but I’m going with Ed Larson in Santa Fe.
What was your favorite piece to make?
I like making them all. Let's say West Side Dory.
What one piece would you like to make that you haven't?
I haven’t thought of it yet.
Your favorite drink?
Gin and Tonic, yummy.
What would be your last meal?
Anything from northern New Mexico, hopefully from Joseph’s Table in Taos. A couple of enchiladas, some tamales, chips and salsa and of course the appropriate beverage. Wow, just made myself hungry.