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Sculptor David Barten donates art to Logging Museum for July 27 festival

Artist David Barten stands in his Conway, MA, workshop with his tool sculpture “Twist and Cut I” which he has donated to the Rangeley Logging Museum. The public is invited to the exhibit opening on Friday afternoon 27 July 2012. (Photo by Peggy Yocom)

RANGELEY - Sculptor David Barten of Conway, Massachusetts, has donated five of his creations to the Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum. Two tool sculptures will be exhibited this summer, and three dioramas of Rangeley life will be shown in 2013. Barten, once a cabin boy at Pleasant Island, will attend the Logging Festival July 27 and 28, and greet visitors from Friday afternoon on in the Museum Building.

Much of Barten’s inspiration for these five sculptures comes from his love of the Rangeley Lakes region. He first saw Rangeley in the mid-1950s when his father took their family to Pleasant Island on Cupsuptic Lake for a week. The Bartens returned the next summer, as well. David wanted to be in Rangeley longer, so in summer 1958, he worked for eight weeks at Pleasant Island as a cabin boy when Don and Pam Young of Dixfield owned the camps. In the spring of 1966, Barten and two friends walked part of the Appalachian Trail in the Rangeley area, and three years later, he brought his wife to Rangeley for a brief visit. During these various sojourns, he traveled the length of Mooselookmeguntic in a small motorboat, sailed on Cupsuptic in a modified canoe, fished in the small rivers that entered Cupsuptic, and hiked in the mountains around Rangeley. He has not visited the area since 1969 and is very glad he will be seeing it once again.

Barten looks forward to talking with the public about the two tool sculptures he will bring to the Museum on July 27. “Wormy Butternut” (2009) brings together such tools as cross cut saws, screwdrivers, calipers and squares, an auger, and more—all placed against a backdrop of butternut (white walnut) with decorative circles of white oak. The second tool sculpture, a standing sculpture titled “Twist and Cut I” (2006), juxtaposes a rafter’s auger (also used by loggers when building log booms and rafts), a bucksaw, a wheel maker’s saw used for cutting felloes, a broad ax, and a stone mason’s or wood carver’s mallet, and more. These tools lie against a backdrop of rock maple and black walnut.

"Wormy Butternut"

Old tools have very special meaning to Barten. He searched for them in antique stores all over western Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. “I’d stop at any store there was,” he explains. “I’d choose the tools that were banged up. They were the ones still there because the collectors didn’t want them. I did! They have a history. These tools were treasured by unnamed, unknown craftsmen, especially carpenters and joiners. These were the tools I wanted to feature.”

One of the reasons he wanted to feature tools is their ubiquity in New England: “Every New England farm had a toolbox, and every farmer was a carpenter. Farmers made themselves into blacksmiths, and they made their own tools. I saw some really interesting, self-made designs! The famers always tinkered. They were not satisfied with what they got from Europe or from the market in America. So, many farmers set up their own forge. The New Englander was a tinkerer,” Barten laughs. Having worked for most of his adult life with hand tools, especially gouges and chisels, he reflects, “America was made by hand, and by hand tools.”

Next summer, Barten will bring three of his large-sized, poly-chromed dioramas, made of countless pieces of careful crafted and painted wood, that tell stories about life in the Rangeley woods. Weighing up to 600 pounds with dimensions up to 104 inches long by 40 inches wide by 71 inches high, these dioramas—“Tow,” “Aquifer,” and “Spring Thaw / Clearcut”—along with his other work, can be seen at

Born in 1942 in New York City, Barten was educated through ninth grade in the public schools of Croton and Hartsdale, New York; he then finished his secondary education at Tabor Academy in Marion, Massachusetts. He studied sculpture at Cornell University and graduated with a BFA in 1965. Three years later, he received an MA from Adelphi University, Long Island, New York, in the teaching of art and went on to teach junior high school from 1967 to 1970 at the Waldorf School of Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. From 1970 to 1973, he was a doctoral candidate in the History of Higher Education in America at New York University; he left the program to assume the Chairmanship of the Faculty of the Waldorf School in 1974. In 1977, he resigned this position to help his wife, Aina, and a friend found Orion, a nature magazine, now in its 30th year. In 1981, he returned to his earlier interest in wood carving and became a professional sculptor.

Barten’s interest in wood working and carving has been shaped at Tabor Academy and Cornell by men who were professional carvers and who had an interest in seeing young people pursue carving as a career. From 1965 on, he has worked in folk art style, carving reliefs and making standing figures as a hobby.

Barten’s professional career as an artist has assumed three phases, the first between 1981 and 1997 when he worked full-time at carving life-size, standing figures on commission, poly-chromed by a collaborator. Because a patron in Louisville, Kentucky, made these commissions possible, the eight sculptures are found in two museums, one college, one church, and a monastery in Kentucky. Four, for example, are of the four Evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and another figure is of Daniel Boone, complete with his two dogs, rifle, and coon-skin cap. Barten was given a retrospective by the Owensboro Museum of Fine Arts in the summer of 1997, at which almost all the work he had created, as well as the models, were exhibited.

Then, from 1998 to 2005, Barten changed his focus from carving on commission to creating large-scale, poly-chromed dioramas on speculation. He made seven dioramas over seven years, and the three inspired by his Rangeley experiences are being given to the Logging Museum. All seven of these dioramas are constructions whose parts were made using a bandsaw and are held in place by dowels, glue and screws. All were painted by Barten, using artist’s oils. Unlike the carvings, none of the dioramas have been exhibited before, so the Logging Museum’s 2013 exhibit will be the first time the public will be able to view Barten’s breathtaking dioramas.

Finally, from 2005 to the present, Barten has fashioned tool sculptures, old wood-working tools placed in harmonious designs against vintage woods. He has constructed 27 sculptures of various sizes. In 2008, five of these sculptures were exhibited at Forbes Library in Northampton, Mass, in a show titled “Practically Perfect.” Two of these tool sculptures will come to the Logging Museum for the July Festival; most of the others have been sold to private collectors, or given to charities for auction.

The Logging Museum thanks Mr. and Mrs. David Barten for their generous donation of art about Rangeley to the people of Rangeley, and welcomes the public to attend the opening of the exhibit on Friday afternoon 27 July. The Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11am to 5pm, until Labor Day and by appointment (864-3939). FMI:

by Peggy Yocom, Curator, Rangeley Lakes Region Logging Museum


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