Austin Barrett

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Meet Queen Anne's County wood working artist Austin Barrett.

Austin Barrett began exploring the arts with watercolors and other painting classes. But it was not until he took up guitar repair that he found something that really spoke to him creatively. He bought used guitars from local pawnshops, fixed them up and resold them. That was just the beginning of a love for the fine art craft of wood working.

Austin Barrett:
"I went up to Exotic Lumber which is a lumber store right in Annapolis and I met one of my old bosses that owned a wood working company. And I worked for him for about a year. His name was Dwayne Adkins. From him I learned how to use the lathe with is the main tool in my shop. And then he got sick and ended up passing away. Right before he passed he willed me all the wood from his shop and I ended up buy all his tools off of him."

"So I started doing that and I was making bottle stoppers, and bowls, and pens and things like that with them. And now I am doing it out on my own. There were so many different kinds of species of wood. It was really cool to see how many colors could be in one piece."

"Normally when I go to buy wood at the lumber store, I try to buy things for a certain project. You end up seeing other things just because they are so beautiful. You don't want to give up the opportunity to get these pieces. Because with wood it's not like paint where you can always go buy cadmium red, or you can buy any of these other colors. While with wood, there's only going to be one piece in existence that looks like that."

The wood of a tree is not the only thing that Austin works with. The burls and seed pods can also provide creative inspiration.

"That's a nut off of a banksias tree from Australia and it's got a hard shell on the outside. And the next layer is really weird. It's got a velvety type of material. And, it's really cool on the inside it's a really hard wood like feeling. And it's got all these holes around it, and that's from the seeds. When it opens up the seeds fall out. Inside the seed pods it has like a spider's web, silky material. So it's a very interesting piece to turn. It has so much room for creativity with it. You can inlay it. You can leave it plain, which is my favorite thing to do, because I think it shows the uniqueness of the piece."

"I do a lot of scavenging. I go and hunt my own burls. I have a buddy who lives right across the bridge who owns High End Burls. He could take something that is rotted out, an old tree stump, and then he puts resin in it. It's part of a stabilizing process. It makes it as hard as it would be if it were fresh cut off the tree. And, it's a way that we can take lumber that would be thrown away or get rotted and make it like new again. And, what's really cool about that is that you get something called spalt; which gives it all these black lines through it. And it makes it really unique. You can see where the wood breaks down but it's hard just like rock"

"My most recent project I saw they had burl caps from Australia. A burl is like a big knot or a tumor on a tree, and it makes the figure on the inside go wild and swirl. And, it makes something that we call eyes; which are tiny little dots in the wood. I saw that the local place got a lot of those in. So I experimented with some of them. Some them looked kind of bowl shaped, and I wanted to see what I could do with the natural outside of the wood because it has all these different spikes. It was really, really cool looking."

Austin left the exterior in its natural form, but created a small bowl that was inlaid with turquoise. The effect is dramatic and beautiful. The interplay between the natural form and the refined wood is something Austin continues to experiment with.

"I made a table for a company called Compliance Environmental that has the same natural edge on it. It's all hand planed. It was too big to be machined so it's all hand tooled out. It is big slab of quilted pommele sapele, which is a type of mahogany. It's very dense and it's very beautiful. And on the outside edge, when the slab is that big (The slab was 43 inches wide.) So, with this the outside gets banged around and the edges get chipped and broken. So I actually went in with hand tools: chisels and other types of tools like that, and recreated the live edge on certain parts of the table. That was probably the biggest project I have done so far."

Austin's bottle stoppers, cheeseboards, pens, and cocktail muddlers are for sale at the Italian Market in Annapolis. Here on the shore you can see his art at St. Michael’s Winefest April 22 - 24. He also has work on display at My Little Studio in Stevensville.

Visit Austin's Instagram account to see more of his work.