Philip Nelson Barter

FRANKLIN – Philip Nelson Barter, 84, died peacefully at home in Franklin, on April 23, 2024, surrounded by his large and loving family. He was born in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, to Clayton Webb and Ada R. (Nelson) Barter on Dec. 13, 1939. In 1958, he graduated from Boothbay High School and soon thereafter joined the army, being stationed at Okinawa.

After leaving the army, Phil moved to California where he met abstract expressionist, Alfonso Sosa, who served as a mentor for the young artist. While out west, Phil also encountered the work of Marsden Hartley. As a result, Phil returned to his Maine roots, determined to “pick up where Harley left off.” Phil initially settled in Gouldsboro before moving to Franklin, the town he would call home for the rest of his life.

In 1972, Phil met his wife, Priscilla, at a religious convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Both had children from previous marriages and over the years, their family kept growing. Phil built their unique family home out of driftwood and barn boards, adding on as each child arrived.

To support his family and his painting, Phil worked as a fisherman, clam digger, and carpenter, while Priscilla started a woolen business, crafting rugs, hats, and neckties (many sold at L.L. Bean). Between the two of them, Phil was eventually able to take up painting full time.

Phil’s early work consisted mainly of narratives, chronicling life in the vibrant fishing villages around him. His work later expanded to include wooden relief paintings, several of which can be seen in public settings, including schools in Deer Isle, Sedgwick, and Sullivan. Perhaps he is best known, however, for his striking landscapes, shown in galleries and museums throughout Maine.

In 1992, Bates college gave him a retrospective, bringing him even further recognition throughout the art world, and in 2017, Maine art historian Carl Little published Phil Barter: Forever Maine, which he described as “the most complete overview to date of this painter’s remarkable art.”

Phil and Priscilla traveled extensively over the years, including stays in Spain, Greenland, Newfoundland, and the American Southwest. Phil found inspiration wherever he went, capturing landscapes and people alike.

When he wasn’t painting, Phil enjoyed crafting model boats and airplanes. He was also a consummate storyteller and a lover of history.

Phil is survived by his lovely wife of more than 50 years, Priscilla, his talented children: Christian, a published poet; Prosper, a writer and teacher; Michelle, an insurance saleswoman; Lucienne, an executive secretary at Williams Oil Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Psalm, who builds and renovates houses with her husband, Travis; Matthew, a painter and owner of Barter Art House in Brunswick; Reuben, owner of Acadia Flooring; Coleen, an entrepreneur along with her husband, Brian; and Jack, a composer and owner of Jack’s Painting Service in Portland; as well as 11 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., on May 18, at the Steuben Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, followed by a reception at the Ella Lewis Elementary School.

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