Matt Barter stands in front of one of his newest pieces in his Brunswick studio. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Brunswick artist Matthew Barter was raised on the coast of Maine in a household where fishing, lobstering and artistry were all part of his everyday life.

He honors his upbringing through his artwork and by supporting the local fishing community, most recently by donating 100 signed copies of one of his prints to raise funds for the Maine Coast  Fishermen’s Association. 

In his pieces, fishermen are depicted at work, stacking traps, painting floats, dipping bait and other aspects of the demanding commercial fishing industry.  

Matt Barter’s pieces depict working fishermen and lobstermen on the Maine coast. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

“The fishermen are a people who have created their own industry out of nothing,” Barter said. “It’s a unique privilege to have these people around us who are so creative, industrious and frugal. They do this work so quietly that you would hardly know they’re there unless you live by the water.”

While coastal landscapes and paintings, some of which Barter does also create, are so common in Maine, the workers who build their lives and maintain Maine’s massive seafood industry often get swept beyond the borders of those iconic Maine images. Barter makes their work visible through his paintings and sculptures.

When Barter was growing up, his father, Maine artist Philip Barter, also worked at fishing, lobstering and clam digging “to make the finances work,” he said.


While his brothers weren’t eager to hang out in their father’s studio at their Bar Harbor home after the work was done, Barter would sit and watch his dad paint. Eventually, his father encouraged him to pick up a brush and join.

Matt Barter says he’s particularly excited about these new pieces, fishermen shapes sculpted from buoys. Unlike most of his work depicting fishermen, these show them simply standing, not working. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

From there, “I got hooked on painting,” he said.

After he left home, he lived for a while on the West Coast, married and had his first son. Eventually, he and his family moved back to Maine, and Barter started working the harbors of Maine just as he’d watched his father do.

For two seasons he worked on a lobster boat in Gouldsboro, helping lobstermen set up and set traps. It was during that time he realized he wanted to paint working fishermen “from a real viewpoint.”

“I gained a profound respect for the people that work out there,” Barter said. “I worked long enough to realize that you have to be a really tough person to do that job.”

He set up a studio and ran with the inspiration he’d gained during his time working on the ocean.


“We get a lot of benefit from the fishermen – fresh seafood, the culture – and I get to paint and sculpt from this really awesome resource,” he said.

He currently has a show, “Cantown,” at Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth, running through July 8, that pays tribute to Maine’s once-thriving and now-defunct sardine canning industry.

Many of the “Cantown” pieces portray women at work in a sardine factory. The show also features sculptures of items the female workers could find at their company store, such as Campbell’s soup and red snapper hot dogs.

“The materials are rough like the environment these people were in,” said gallery director Karin Wilkes, adding that walking into Barter’s show is like “walking into an experience that doesn’t exist in the U.S.  anymore.”

“He’s an authentic guy who grew up in this area,”  Wilkes said, “and I appreciate anything that pays tribute to the working fishermen. He’s got a unique folksy vision.”

Matthew Barter has donated 100 signed prints of “Boatwork” to benefit the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. Contributed / Maine Fishermen’s Association.

Barter says his style is “folk art meets modern art.”


“The folk art is that they’re made from rougher materials, and the finer art comes when you make it into a process you can recreate while telling a continuous story,” he said.

Because Barter has gained so much from local fishermen, he said, he wanted to give something back. Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association’s Fishermen Wellness Program was a good fit.

The Brunswick-based nonprofit works to sustain fishing communities in the state.

“I like a lot of their programs,” Barter said. “They help outfit boats with emergency equipment, which can be really expensive.” 

He is also appreciative that the Fishermen Wellness Program which advocates for more resources to support the mental health and well-being of commercial fishermen, and partners with organizations to create opportunities for fishermen to find help, information and wellness support.

The program refers fishermen to counselors who understand the unpredictability and stressful schedules of their jobs, and it covers the cost of up to three therapy sessions.

“I think that’s a conversation that’s really poignant for the times because they’re under a lot of pressure and they work sun up to sun down seven days a week,” Barter said. “Anyone who does that is going to have burnout and hard days. These isolated coastal villages can be very hard places to live.”

He has signed and donated 100 18-inch by 24-inch prints of his original oil on canvas painting, “Boatwork,” showing a working waterfront scene on the South Gouldsboro Pier. The prints are available at for $250 to benefit the association.

Matt Barter’s studio in Brunswick. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

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