BRISTOL — By his own admission, Reed Prescott’s mind never stops churning. At the artist’s studio on Main Street in Bristol this past Monday, he is surrounded by wood shavings and power tools, working on his newest line of products. Known primarily as a landscape painter, the Lincoln resident is now branching out into hand-carved wooden items — everything from earrings to buttons, zipper pulls and bracelets.
Prescott, 55, has painted landscapes professionally for 27 years; his creations include two Vermont duck postage stamps and numerous book illustrations. But Prescott has worked with wood since childhood.
“My father used to be a woodworker here in town,” Prescott said. “He did a lot of furniture repair.”
While the senior Prescott worked with wood as a building material, his son was drawn to it as an artistic medium.
“Dad would be interested in a nice piece of elm that was straight and clean, and I would be interested in something like birdseye maple that was twisted,” Prescott said. “I’ve always been fascinated with that type of thing.”
To say Prescott is a wood fanatic would be an understatement. He’s fascinated by it — the patterns, grains and textures that make each piece unique, and make wood a unique material to work with.
Prescott, like an elementary student at show and tell, on Monday shuffled around his studio, showing a reporter different types of wood and different ways he showcases their beauty. He is particularly fascinated with spalting, a product of decomposition that weakens wood, but creates intricate patterns.
Prescott is willing to admit his obsession, at least.
“I’m so sick now with this stuff,” he joked. Without skipping a beat, he launched into a story of how he was stopped in traffic behind a truck full of wood that had interesting grain patterns.
“I wondered if he was just going around the corner,” Prescott recalled. “Then I thought, ‘You know what, there’s a whole forest out there, you don’t need to follow this guy!’”
Prescott sees art in raw pieces of wood — on the wall of his shop is a two-pronged root that struck his eye because it resembled the head of a gazelle. Another piece is a root that has grown around several stones.
Last summer, Prescott started combining his woodcarving skills and artistic vision to make products to sell in his Main Street shop, which shares space with Verde Mountain. He is still unsure where that side of his business is heading.
“In six months’ time, it’s growing to be a good part of the regular income,” Prescott said. “If it grows to the point where I can’t do other things, I’ll find ways to do it.”
Prescott said he plans to focus on custom jobs, rather than mass-producing his products.
“Everybody and their brother has a tree that has to come down in their front yard, and they have this feeling of loss, and they want to do something special with that tree,” Prescott said. “Just in Addison County alone, there are garages and barns with little chunks of wood that people are saving, but people haven’t done anything with.”
Prescott said he hopes customers will bring him wood that has sentimental value, such as from a felled tree from their home or camp, for him to carve something special out of.
“They can send me that special piece of wood from a property, like their grandmother’s house, or a branch from a tree on the grounds they got married on,” Prescott said. “I can make the product and put the story that goes along with it on the card.”
Prescott said he can make a lot of product with a small amount of wood.
“The long range plan is to give people a vision — you don’t have to bring me a cord,” Prescott said. “Just send me a 4-by-10 inch branch and I can make a bunch of stuff.”
Prescott said he hopes his wood carvings, which are much less expensive than his oil paintings, will attract a new kind of customer into his store.
“The paintings are great, but these $4,000 to $7,000 paintings kind of scare a lot of the people around here,” Prescott said.
An added benefit of Prescott’s work is that all the raw materials and labor are from Vermont.
“If the trend is to get away from buying things from overseas, how much more local can you get?” Prescott said. “Not only are they purchased locally, but they are made here, or in my father’s old wood shop here in Bristol.”
He doesn’t just work in paint and wood — in the shop there’s a rooster made out of a bent piece of wire Prescott purchased at a hardware store. He said he got the idea while he was making Christmas tree toppers from the same material. Once he conceived the rooster sculpture, he couldn’t stand to delay a minute more than necessary.
“I just had to get it out of my head to make room for the next idea,” Prescott said. “If I don’t, I sit there and dwell on it.”
Prescott said it is a difficult life to be a full-time artist. He added he and his wife have adjusted their lives to the inconsistency of his profession. In between commissions — some for as much as $8,000 — Prescott relies on his other products, such as woodworking and greeting cards, to get by.
But despite the uncertainty of when the next commission will come, Prescott has hammered out a living for a quarter-century, doing what he loves to do.
“Sometimes it’s like ‘OK, God, when am I going to make a living at this?’” Prescott said. “But then I go, ‘Well, wait a minute, you’ve been paying the bills for 25 years.’”
Prescott, who throughout the interview spoke in anecdotes and seemed to have a quote to fit every situation, offered one relevant to the nature of his business.
“Money is like a river; it always flows,” Prescott said. “Sometimes it’s a drought and sometimes it overflows the banks, but it is always moving.”
Currently, Prescott Galleries, located at 19 Main St. in Bristol, is open Monday through Saturday. The proprietor said he hopes to keep the store open seven days a week in the summer.
It’s clear from the enthusiasm that Prescott exudes when talking about his work that he both understands and cherishes his profession, that the money he brings in is just a means to continue what he’s been doing his whole life.
“I’m just looking to pay the bills, so I can be creative for another day,” Prescott said.