MIDDLESEX – When it comes to “lost art,” D.J. Barry is a self-made master.
The 33-year-old Middlesex man, who spends his days working as a network analyst at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, and his spare time making things in the second-floor studio at his Molly Supple Hill Road home, doesn’t just lose art, he flat-out gives it away.
But not all of it – just a growing number of select pieces Barry has created as part of a “pay-it-forward” project he started more than a year ago and has no plans to abandon.
“It’s been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Barry said. He dubbed the project “Lost and Found,” though he concedes the name is a bit misleading.
Barry’s hand-carved wooden sculptures are never really “lost” – they’re all hiding in plain sight waiting to be claimed by someone willing to meet the simple request painted on the backs of each colorful one of them: “This artwork is free under one condition: you promise to do one good thing for the world.”
It’s a small ask, and from where Barry sits, the size of the gesture doesn’t matter because it’s the thought that counts.
“It puts people on the spot to consider giving back, which is sort of what I was doing with this whole thing in the first place,” Barry said. He has produced and strategically placed a dozen different sculptures in communities from Berlin to Burlington since last July.
A stencil artist who is handy with a jigsaw, Barry just produced his 13th piece – a four-foot-tall “Jack Skellington” – after watching “The Nightmare Before Christmas” with his 3-year-old daughter, Evelyn.
Though Barry is usually vague about the location – calling out the county, but not the town where the piece is located, he’s flipping the script in more ways than one with “the Pumpkin King.”
This one is by Barry, for Barre, according to Barry, who said he’s ditching the tradition of planting the piece on a Saturday morning.
“This being number 13 and being Jack Skellington it only made sense to do it on Halloween,” said Barry, who plans to go trick-or-treating with his family in Barre after they monitor his latest “treasure hunt” from a safe distance.
“It shouldn’t take long,” Barry said. He noted the hunts have developed a faithful following and are typically over within minutes of his posting a clue on the Facebook page for D.J. Barry Art.
On Christmas Eve, Barry placed his hand-carved version of “The Grinch” at Fort Ethan Allen, and five minutes after posting the clue there were five cars in the parking lot.
“Usually within 15 minutes these things are found,” he said.
Barry said that was true of the “Cat In The Hat” he placed at the Forever Young Treehouse in Burlington’s Oak Ledge Park one Saturday, and both “Thing 1” and “Thing 2,” which he put out one after the other on another Saturday. “Thing 1” was quickly found at Charlie’s Playground in Barre and “Thing 2” didn’t last much longer at the playground at Rumney Memorial School not far from Barry’s Middlesex home.
Like “Jack Skellington,” Barry said many of the pieces have been inspired by what he reads and watches with his young daughter, who has gotten better about parting with them once they’re finished.
“She was kind of young when we started … and she got really attached to the pieces,” he said. “When we hid the Grinch she was bawling.”
Barry said his daughter isn’t his only inspiration. He was going for spooky when he made “Penny Wise the Clown” from Stephen King’s “It” and placed under a bench on State Street in Montpelier this time last year. It worked, because the wife of the police officer who found it didn’t let him bring it home.
“I don’t know where that one ended up,” he said.
Barry’s eighth-grade football coach from U-32, found two of his most recent creations. A retired game warden, Gerald Papineau found the “Tasmanian Devil” at Rock Art Brewery in Morriville earlier this year and “Waldo” of “Where’s Waldo” fame at the Capital City Farmers’ Market in Montpelier earlier this month.
“It brings out the child in everyone, doing something simple like a treasure hunt,” Barry said.
Though no money changes hands, Barry said, “Lost and Found” has paid unexpected dividends – boosting his signature “World Cow” brand.
“Most artists get so hung up on selling work, but ironically when I started giving it away ... my popularity and reach and growth sort of skyrocketed,” he said.
Barry hasn’t decided where to hide his latest piece, but he said folks in Barre at 5 p.m. on Halloween will have a leg up on the competition. Barry, his wife, Cindy, and their daughter will be watching before going trick-or-treating.