A display of some of Gray’s unique wood art, photo by Linda Faas

Barry Gray of Mesquite has been named blue ribbon winner in the Southern Utah Art Guild show, “Color of Winter,” at the Red Cliff Art Gallery in St George.  Gray competed with 44 artists and a total of 131 pieces of art in all mediums.  Gray, a highly accomplished woodturner, took up the craft as a hobby in 2012.  This was his first competition, and he was shocked when he was announced as the blue ribbon recipient among an elite group of artists.  The exhibition is on display through January 24.

Entitled simply “The Forest,” Gray’s blue ribbon creation is a highly intricate burl wood disk that has a natural pattern that evokes an image of a deep forest.  Gray attributes the success of his

work  to “the magic of what you find in the wood.”  His deep love for his art and his enthusiastic willingness to expand skills recently led to an invitation to become a member of the Arrowhead Gallery in St George, where he was featured Artist of the Month in December.

Barry Gray with his Blue Ribbon wood creation, “The Forest”
photo submitted

Gray took up wood  turning at his wife’s urging.  She was concerned that he needed a hobby after a back injury caused his early retirement.  Always busy with projects, Gray immediately took to the idea of making useful and artful wood items from castoff logs that would have otherwise been destroyed.  He soon learned “a lathe and a log” weren’t the only items required to make a nice bowl or platter.  His shop full of machines and tools—and wood—speak of his passion for his craft.  He works with a wide variety of wood, from mesquite to Bastogne walnut.

Migrating from Southern California to Nevada, then Utah, Gray and his wife settled for a time

In Cedar City to be near her ailing parents.  Barry was fortunate to live in that city where the local high school woodshop teacher, Todd Thorley, was a gifted woodworker who shared his knowledge and his high school shop space with the community.  On the second Saturday of every month, curious would-be woodworkers congregated at the Cedar City High School shop to watch demos on a variety of techniques.  The group eventually forming the Southern Utah Woodturners (SUW.

Gray started out with basic equipment, but as his fascination with the mystique of

wood deepened, he acquired more and more tools.  He became an enthusiastic member of

SUW and when the club needed a president, he volunteered.  “I certainly didn’t have the most woodworking knowledge, but I had a lot of speaking experience from my days as a salesman, and I was willing to take on the job that most of the members shied from.”  The group boasts a membership of about 75, scattered from Richfield UT to Boulder City NV.  Gray served as SUW’s president for several years, all the while expanding his scope of skills and enjoying the camaraderie and learning atmosphere of the organization.

In 2011, the Grays knew they needed to move to a single story home, and happened on an advertisement for a Mesquite house that looked interesting.  They drove to Mesquite and were sold the minute they walked in the door.  Their actual move was not that quick, as they had other commitments in Cedar City, so it wasn’t until 2016 that they finally settled in Mesquite fulltime.

Barry lost his wife in 2017, but he turned his loss into inspiration to step up his focus on woodturning.  He vowed to make one item a day, and for many months he kept up that pace.  Finally, seeing that his productivity outstripped his list of potential recipients for all those bowls, he settled into broadening his imagination and began doing more art pieces, rather than functional wood items.  His hobby has launched a new creative phase in his life.

“The Forest” and the entire SUAG winter exhibition can be enjoyed at Red Cliff Gallery, 220 N 200 East, St George Monday through Friday, 10am to 5pm.  A collection of Gray’s work can also be seen at the Arrowhead Gallery at the Electric Theatre Center, 68 E. Tabernacle, St George, open 11am-8pm, Tuesday through Saturday.