Peter Barrett

Sculptures marry Gedney Farm landscape and industrial art


NEW MARLBOROUGH — Gedney Farm is used to hosting couples. They're just not usually made of steel.

Consisting of two undulating I-beams that tower on a hill overlooking the site's events barn, "Couple" is one of three relationship-related sculptures that are slated to reside at the popular New Marlborough wedding venue through Oct. 31 as part of "Peter Barrett: 30 Years of Sculpture." The exhibition will also feature 10 other Barrett works that draw heavily from the artist's industrial background. The Egremont resident has a deep connection to the site, which will hold an opening reception Saturday, Aug. 24, from 4 to 6 p.m. with food, wine and live jazz.

"Mike and Peter have been enthusiastic, supportive, generous," Barrett said during a Wednesday tour of his indoor and outdoor pieces, alluding to the farm's general manager, Michael Smith, and sommelier and food and beverage manager, Peter Miscikoski.

Barrett first showed work at Gedney Farm in the early 1990s, just after he began sculpting. He had started welding almost a decade earlier while he was operating a sawmill, Green River Lumber, with his brother Will. Repair welding was a necessity in that line of work. That led him to sculpture, but not right away.

"It took a few years for me to come around to sculpture," said Barrett, whose work has appeared in SculptureNow at The Mount.

The art form had briefly captured his imagination at a much younger age. During his childhood, he saw some of David Smith's welded steel sculptures at the late artist's Bolton Landing, N.Y., property. Eventually, Greek and Roman sculptures also became influences, but Barrett's pieces conjure Smith's geometric abstractions more readily because he predominantly welds structural steel.

"Coming from an industrial background, I like to keep that industrial sense in just about everything I do," Barrett said.

For instance, in "Couple," the word "Eastern" is embossed in one of the I-beams.

"That's the mill that this chunk of steel came from," Barrett said, noting that he believes it to be from a Pennsylvania mill shuttered in the 1930s.

Barrett is a collector of what he calls "found objects." In "Quetzalcoatl," one of Barrett's more recent segment figures and the most expensive piece in the show at $26,000, he incorporates a rusty I-beam and H-beam into a structure positioned beneath a tree next to the parking lot.

"All of this stuff had a former life," he said.

With a long tail, the sculpture's shape elicits the quetzal bird and deity from which it draws its name. Its head stems from a Pittsfield junkyard. Weighing 880 pounds, the piece was originally part of a bridge on Pittsfield's Merriam Street, its five layers of half-inch steel ultimately severed.

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"Steel breaks. It doesn't like to break, but it does," Barrett said.

Holes are vital to the parking lot-adjacent "Windows on War." Conflict in the Middle East inspired the 2004 work, expressing Barrett's frustration with the events happening overseas in three sections.

"The riveted piece on the bottom, for me, is like from an armored vehicle or a tank or a bunker or some kind of military hardware. The piece in the middle with the holes is the victim. And the [open] piece on top is the hope for a clearer, brighter future," he said.

The holes section hails from a cement barge.

"This is the salt water side here," Barrett said, examining the sculpture's bumpy back.

"Above It All" evokes a different means of transport. The lamp-like structure includes clustered railroad bolts framed by a rectangular top. Barrett bought "probably a ton of these bolts for like $8 or something" at an auction.

"Had a difficult time transporting them," he said.

The sculpture is inside Gedney Farm's restaurant, which is open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights during wedding season. (Smith noted that those are the best days to view the art, as weddings typically occupy the property on weekends.) Deeper within the events barn, visitors can find two figures: "Puer" and "Aloe Vera Goddess." The former was first shown at the venue shortly after it was finished in 1993. Using ample wrought iron, Barrett fashioned a boy with skinny long legs and a small torso.

"He's just fun," Barrett said.

Outside, "Winter Daisy" and "Gear Puller Flower" add some stainless steel to the surrounding landscapes. In the latter, he incorporates ball bearings and the tool in the title.

"It was broken, a tooth of it broke here," Barrett pointed out. "So, it's junk, but now it's art."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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