Featured Artisan – Nicholas Barnes

Featured Artisan – Nicholas Barnes

Patrick County native Nicholas Barnes is carrying on his grandfather’s legacy as he molds and crafts stunning wood products.

From the moment you see one of the Barnes’ creations, it is apparent how much handiwork has gone into the design and construction of the vessels. Even pictures do not capture the natural beauty of their work.

wooden vase with metal inlay created by Nicholas Barnes

Nicholas shares that his grandfather, James, was a product designer in the 1960s and 1970s in New York City, creating packaging for some of the country’s most well-known brands. After a few decades, James was eager to get away from the city and purchased land in Patrick County, where he would lay down roots and establish his personal woodworking shop.

Although Nicholas is a second generation later and one of many grandchildren, he says it quickly became evident that he was the one to follow in his grandfather’s craft, even majoring in product design at James Madison University. When he graduated with his degree in 2021, he began traveling much more frequently with James to craft shows all over the country.

Their art begins with woods native to Southwest Virginia and goes on to incorporate exotic woods imported from all over the world. The wood is turned to shape over many hours to create a vessel. Following that process, items like deer antler, walnut shells, copper piping, colored pencils, and then metal are then inlayed along with small wooden pieces to create the design.

“This was my inheritance in a way: the knowledge and tools to make this art,” Nicholas said.

Nicholas and his grandfather, James.

Many of the materials that are incorporated into the artwork are often found on the family property and, oftentimes, tell a story.

Nicholas has a piece called Homeplace that features his own personal story with his family, filled with his dog, family members, and fishing memories. “Every piece by you purchase contains some part of my story,” Nicholas added, about the art he displays and sells.

Nicholas also compares his woodworking to that of artisans in other mediums. He compares the wood turning to a canvas, his ornamented pieces to a palette, and the inlay to brushstrokes.

Nicholas and James refer to their technique of wood inlay as ‘Wood Cloisonné.’

The two have pieces for sale at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center & Marketplace in Abingdon and frequently travel across the country for juried art shows and festivals to states like Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Ohio.