REAL PEOPLE: Carven memories, painted surfaces



By Christopher Crosby

Don Best lives in a world of textures, befitting an artist who in the later half of his life has dedicated his works to carving. Don speaks as though he remembers life’s experiences in great, calm focus, drawing upon colors, grains, shadows and able to articulate their emotional sum as an image, like the wood carvings that adorn his studio.

Q: Where were you born and where were you brought up?

A: “I was born in Portland and brought up in Cumberland Center with all my family and friends. I later moved to Raymond in the fourth or fifth grade.”

Q: What was your childhood like?

A: “Typical. Cumberland was a bedroom community. It was a new one then, being developed, and everyone in the neighborhood grew up playing sports in the streets.”

Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?

A: “I’ve always had a strength in art. My older brother was the artist in the family and I don’t know that I wanted to follow in his foot steps but I wanted to be an artist.

My school years were challenging. I wasn’t a great reader, so I turned to art as a way to get through it. When I went to art school it was great; I was flying high. At the time, society didn’t make you feel wanted if you didn’t do well in math and reading, but in art school, while we had academic courses, we also had creative writing and art classes.”

Q: Where did you go to school?

A: “Lake Region High School, then the Portland School of Art [now the Maine College of Art]. I didn’t have an early training in art, so I did more than carving, I painted. At the time, sculpting wasn’t my focus, but I took a wood carving course one summer, and I still fall back on those skills.”

Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?

A: “In Raymond occasionally. I shot snowballs at cars with buddies. Except one time, after I threw it, I realized it was a cop car and we had to run out of there, across a frozen lake in the middle of the night to get home.”

Q: What have you had for jobs?

A: “I pride myself that art has never taken a back seat to my jobs, or a career. Jobs have only ever been there to support me. But I’ve been a school-bus driver, made pins, painted, and carved. One of the greatest things in the the 80’s was traveling around the country as a rug-weaver.

For me, art is fueled by passion, passion to make art, not money. Many things I don’t complete – projects around home, but with art I always complete it. I’ve got the best job.”

Q: What do you consider your relationship status to be?

A: “Married to my second wife.”

Q: Do you have any or want children?

A: “Yes, two adult children and three step children. They grew up with artists as parents, so they didn’t want to become artists themselves.”

Q: Have you done much traveling?

A: “Fair amount within the U.S. I’d love to go to Europe.”

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment?

A: “Surviving a workingclass family and not letting those parameters [of] ‘you’re the man, you have to work’, take away from my art. I’m not the bread-winner, I don’t bring in the most money, but it’s a total gift [making art]. I watched all these male figures do the 9-5, and an accomplishment in this second- half of my life is being able to do what I love.”

Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?

A: “I collect ideas and visual information. Certain things from my history that I put into my art.”

Q: What subject do you wish you knew more about?

A: “Almost everything! My step-children know so much it seems to come out of their pores. Our brains are so different. There’s a lot of stuff about the world that’s escaped me because of my early education that I’m not aware of.”

Q: What is the on thing you would happily do over again?

A: “Going to art school and having two children.”

Q: What would you like people to know about you?

A: “I’m passionate about what I do and what I make, and I think I present myself as a snob and I’m not. Once, in high school, I ran into this beautiful girl in the hall way who I’d never had the guts to talk to and [out of the blue] she told that I was a snob.”

Q: If anyone could walk in right now, whom would you most like to see?

A: “My grandson.”

Q: What is the most challenging part of your day?

A: “I’ve got an easy life. I guess that I’m a little slow getting going early in the morning.”

Q: What scares you the most?

A: “The world we’re leaving our children. It’s terrifying. It seems we all have our heads in the sand. People behind us will have to deal with this head-on. I think everyone feels helpless.”

Q: Have you ever met anyone famous or notorious?

A: “My dog.”

Q: What was the best memory this interview brought back?

A: “This slaughterhouse my family operated when I was growing up. There’s so much texture to that memory; this little boy standing on the concrete floor, the heaviness of the hooks, the blood, the darkness of the corners.”