Spruce Head resident Rick Bernard is known for his unique sculptures constructed from reshaped wood, stone and metal objects. Working spontaneously, he intuitively establishes spatial relationships between these elements that satisfy his immediate aesthetic sensibility. With the addition of movement induced by the forces of wind and gravity, Bernard includes in his repertoire kinetic as well as stabile sculpture.
Barnard’s interest in sculpture, however, developed only 15 years ago, when he noticed a wine bottle holder—the kind where the bottle is inserted into an angled piece of wood and balanced on a table top in a way that seems to defy gravity. He decided to experiment with the physics of this dynamic equilibrium by sculpting and assembling bits of wood. This was the beginning of Bernard’s career as a sculptor. One thing led to another as he began incorporating metal and rocks into his work. Eventually, his sculptures became larger and suitable for outdoor display.
Bernard’s studio is an unheated small shed next to his driveway where he works throughout the year with the exception of winter. He collects rocks from several local island beaches and purchases the steel from local vendors to construct his works. “For ideas,” he explains, “sometimes I think about possible designs as I fall asleep at night,” thus relying upon his subconscious to create the mental image for his next sculpture. During the construction process, Bernard occasionally sets aside a work until he visualizes a different option for it. “It is not unusual for me to work on several pieces at a time,” he explains.
He works to please himself. “If I like the sculpture, then it passes the test.” Although he repeatedly states that the title “artist” feels foreign to him, his works prove his artistry. And the pieces show an evident ability to “think outside the box.” This ability may have its foundation in his life and career before making sculpture.
Born in Illinois, Bernard’s family moved frequently from coast to coast as his father changed corporate positions. When he was only eight years old, his father abandoned the family and his mother endured a mental crisis that left Bernard and his two siblings in the care of their grandmother and hired nannies. To complicate matters, schooling was also a challenge, especially in art class where students were required to make representational art. His inability to complete these assignments created an obstacle. Bernard confesses, “I learned to hate art from that experience.” But he found other outlets for his creativity during those difficult years. He discovered the joy of building three-dimensional objects like go-carts, tree houses and forts from his imagination, without planning. These activities honed his skills as an intuitive spatial thinker.
After high school, Bernard turned his attention to psychology. He received a B.A. at Bucknell University in 1972 and landed a position in Newfoundland teaching special education. The following year Bernard moved to Pennsylvania where he earned an MA in counseling. It wasn’t until 1976 that he moved to Maine where he forged a 34-year career at the St. George School as a K-8 counselor, sports coach, and drama coach. Tapping into his creative and unconventional style, Bernard found new ways to help students discover solutions to the problems they faced. He even developed skills as a magician to engage his students, and eventually gained enough expertise to become a professional magician. His ability to create illusion, coupled with his unconventional approach to personal challenges, seems to have informed his sculpting, which has proven a success.
It wasn’t long after Bernard began sculpting that opportunities to exhibit and sell his work emerged here on the St. George peninsula. He participated in the annual art exhibitions at the Odd Fellows Hall in Tenants Harbor every summer as well as the arts festival in Belfast. Robust sales encouraged him to keep going and now his work is displayed at the Port Clyde Art Gallery, where he is an artist member. You may view his sculptures there during the summer months. —Katharine A. Cartwright