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Contours of Life

Intricately hand-carved, three-dimensional renderings of natural motifs by artist John Barnett


John Barnett 

15 x 12 x 6 inches 

aspen wood with lacquer finish


THE ARTIST: John Barnett

BEST KNOWN FOR: Intricately hand-carved, three-dimensional renderings of natural motifs—birds, leaves, flowers, bones—in aspen wood.

INSPIRATION: The New Mexico landscape, plants and creatures fuel Barnett's creativity. "I look to see the detail that is by my feet, in the flowers of gardens, streams and forest floors," he says.

GROWING WITH THE TREES: "I was raised in the mountains in Oregon and have been around wood the majority of my life," Barnett explains. "In 1998 I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I started looking for a local wood to carve and a style of my own."

LEARNING TO CARVE: "I'm about 99% self-taught. I was given direction in carving for a few months by a Haida carver, Ralph Bennett, and this was with Northwest coastal tools—axes, adzes, knives," he recalls. Barnett eventually added more conventional hand tools, including gouges and mallets, to his set. He often takes months to complete a single work of art. Some are coaxed out of one piece of wood, but others might be assembled from hundreds of delicate pieces.

NATURE'S LESSONS: "What I express is simple—that all life is important, from people to plants!" He is drawn to the skull's form—with all the curves and crevices affording potential for shadow and light—and also to the skull's symbolism, resonating with the energy of death but also of life and regeneration. Barnett notes, "If you walk in the woods and find a skull, more than likely some plant will be growing through the jaw or eyes."

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