On 23 April 2024, painter Philip Barter died peacefully at his home in Franklin, Maine. After suffering a heart attack, Barter returned home to hospice care. Lying in the living room of his remarkable house, surrounded by his art, he requested some favorite tunes by the Sons of the Pioneers and the Chieftains. As his wife Priscilla put it, “If somebody is going to die, you must have music.” Buoyed by this music, by his faith, and family, Barter made his way into the hereafter.

Philip Barter 11 with sketchbook copy

Philip Barter with sketchbook. Photo courtesy of the Barter family..

On a visit to Barter’s home and studio in early May, Priscilla pulled out a sample of the many sketchbooks her husband had filled in his long and fruitful life as an artist. While I knew of his use of sketches in his painting practice, I had no idea of the range of these preliminary pieces which often have the feel of finished work.

Philip Barter 2 group of sketchbooks copy

Philip Barter, three spiral-bound sketchbooks—printed by Bienfang and Canson—and a sketch. One sketchbook is marked “Camp 03 and NFLD” (for Newfoundland).

Barter made his sketches in several mediums, including colored pencil, pen-and-ink, marker, and oil pastel. The drawings also range in size, from tiny thumbnails to full-pagers. Some have the looseness of on-the-spot observations while others are fully rendered pictures with titles.

Philip Barter 13 sketches marker copy

Philip Barter, eleven sketches, marker.

Philip Barter 7 sketches and doodles pen and ink copy

Philip Barter, sketches and doodles, pen and ink.


Priscilla recounted that her husband did a lot of the sketches while on the road, during trips to Spain, the Southwest, the Caribbean, around Maine, and elsewhere. “When we traveled,” she explained, “he’d draw these little things and then when we got somewhere, he would color them in to remember what it was supposed to look like.” Some of these drawings would end up as paintings; others remain as special souvenirs of particular places.

Philip Barter 3 Old Santa Fe Trail colored pencil copy

Philip Barter, Old Santa Fe Trail, colored pencil sketch, 2005.

A colored pencil drawing Old Santa Fe Trail, inscribed “Philip” (his preferred signature) and dated 5 October, offers a miniature landscape of New Mexico. On retreat from a Maine winter, Barter found visual sustenance in this desert world where a humble church is the lone structure set against a blue mountain range.

Philip Barter 5 fisheman in boat pen and ink copy

Philip Barter, Fisherman in Boat, pen and ink.

A pen-and-ink drawing of a man in a boat demonstrates Barter’s facility for using a kind of shorthand to capture a subject. Unconcerned about accuracy, he delineates the figure, boat, cargo, and ocean with swift lines.

Philip Barter 12 eight sketches with labels marker copy

In this sheet of thumbnails, Barter labeled several of the sketches—Lake, Rapids, Mt Kineo, Golden Rd.—as a way to recall the location of the subjects.

Years ago, Barter told me that his friend, sculptor Edwin Gamble (1922–2006), had once suggested he work from the simplest of sketches. In just a few lines he could capture the essence of the view—a way to avoid the distraction of extraneous details.

Philip Barter 9 Blueberry Barrens oil pastel copy

Philip Barter, Blueberry Barrens, oil pastel.

Gamble’s advice led to increased abstraction in Barter’s canvases as he translated the elements of a view into arrangements of interlocking forms, organic and geometric. They marked a transition from earlier narrative paintings to simpler and bolder responses to the landscape. In paintings of Schoodic Point, Mount Katahdin, blueberry barrens, and other motifs, he simplified shapes, eschewing the incidental in favor of the abstracted.

Philip Barter 4 Moon over Albuquerque colored pencil October 2005 copy

Philip Barter, Moon over Albuquerque, colored pencil, 2005.

Philip Barter 6 Canoer pen and ink copy

Philip Barter, Canoer, pen and ink.

Barter was attached to his sketches. One day, Priscilla took a tiny drawing of Katahdin into Ellsworth to have Pyramid Studios reproduce it on a ring for their anniversary. When she got home, her husband said, “I can’t find my sketch of Katahdin, I’ve looked everywhere.” Priscilla suggested he make another one, but he said he couldn’t, that that sketch was the one. “So I had to go back into town to retrieve the sketch,” she recalls with a laugh.

Philip Barter 8 three sketches black marker copy

Philip Barter, three sketches with black marker.

Philip Barter 10 landscape composition oil pastel copy

Philip Barter, landscape composition, oil pastel.

Priscilla kept a record of all of her husband’s paintings—no mean feat considering how prolific he was. With these albums, one can follow the artist’s whereabouts and what he produced in any given year.

Philip Barter 14 design for a gate

Philip Barter, design for a gate, oil pastel, 2024.

Among Barter’s last works is a sketch for a gate he was designing for his house. In the oil pastel drawing a river flows upward through a landscape accented with trees towards a blue triangular peak and the sun. Around the central image are Barter’s notations for dimensions and additional imagery. With death just around the corner, he might have been plotting his course for the great beyond.


Carl Little is the author of Philip Barter: Forever Maine (Marshall Wilkes, 2017).

Barter is the subject of several shows this summer. Philip Barter: Paintings and Drawings from the 1980s and 1990s runs through 5 July at Courthouse Gallery Fine Art. Philip Barter’s Art and its Influence, up through September at John Edwards Market, features work by the painter and three of his students, Matthew Barter, Brian Emerson, and Joshua Pouwels (1973–2007). Both venues are in Ellsworth. Barter is also represented by the Portland Gallery.



Image at top: The sign for the Philip Barter Gallery in Franklin, Maine. All photos by Carl Little.