Skip to main content

Murray Journal

Beauty in wood: The woodwork artwork of Dennis Barnett

May 09, 2017 03:44PM ● By Alisha Soeken

Hand- carved birds by Dennis Barnett. (Alisha Soeken)

By Alisha Soeken | [email protected] 

The Great Salt Lake Woodcarvers Annual Show and Competition was held at the Historic Wheeler Farm in March. Dennis Barnett took first place in the categories he entered.

“I was so excited for him. He had worked so long and hard and to be judged by his peers means a lot,” Kristine Barnett said of her husband.

Barnett joined artisans from across the western states to showcase his woodcarvings. Barnett brought two pieces, the first a family of Mallards swimming together beside a patch of grass and cattails. And the second, a brightly colored Western Tanager perched on an incredibly detailed branch.

“I love all his carvings they are so beautiful and I love to display them in my home,” Kristine said.

Barnett began woodcarving 10 years ago shortly after his retirement.

“We went back east to a family reunion in North Dakota, duck country. I looked around and saw all these duck carvings and really liked them. I was given one as a gift and when I came back to Utah I wanted to buy a couple more but couldn’t find anything like it,” Barnett said.

Barnett got some books and taught himself how to carve and paint. His first duck took a couple of months to complete and though he now grimaces at it, it demonstrates early mastery of his craft.

That mastery improved with time and despite the recognition and awards he receives for his work Barnett remains quiet, humble and focused only on the carving challenge at hand.

“The hardest part is just trying to make it look like a duck,” Barnett said with a laugh. “Sometimes you get it all done and it doesn’t look like you want it to, I’ve got a whole shelf of those downstairs.”

But displayed upstairs are many pieces that are unflawed and incredibly detailed, so much so that one might be fooled into listening for a quack or expecting to touch feathers.

Barnett carves for the process as well as the finished product.

“I carve because it’s very relaxing. It’s also fun when you get done and they actually look like what you want it to look like. It’s really satisfying,” Barnett said.

Barnett, like many experts, are proficient in more than one skill. He also enjoys another hobby—restoring cars. Among his woodworking tools sits a fully restored 1953 Chevy and a 1928 Ford Model A.

“I started fixing cars long before I could drive. I’ve always fixed cars as a hobby. I fix things as I can afford them. It took me 18 years to get the Chevy up and running,” Barnett said.

Like restoring cars, woodcarving also takes Barnett a lot of time.

“It usually takes me a few months to carve one thing but the Mallard family took me over a year,” Barnett said.

Luckily, that time spent is reflected in the final product and admired by those who view it.

“Dennis’ art work shows his patience, artistic ability and knowledge of animals. Woodworking is art at its best. A painter can re-work, erase and start over, but once a piece of wood is cut off the block there is no turning back,” Paul Bambrough said of his longtime friend’s skill.

And, for now, Barnett has no plans to turn back, only to turn wood blocks into beautiful animal creations.