Barber by day, painter by hobby
June 17, 2002
Things are not always as they seem. At Les’ Barber shop on Winnie Lane, Adam Baker clips hair, a trade he has been doing for 16 years. He is also the only resident barber at the shop who paints as well, pulling out his easel and working on portraits of customers when he gets a chance.
Most likely you will see someone you know in one of the nine oil portraits hanging on the walls at Les’ –Eeither the fellow who was in the chair next to yours the last time you were in, the owner of the shop, Les, or possibly even yourself if Baker has taken a photo of you.
George Barff, a customer of Les’ and a carpenter, has his portrait hanging at Les’. Baker took the portrait with him to the Rendezvous last weekend at Mills Park, setting it up among his other portraits, Barff’s portrait to one side.
“People said what a really good likeness it was,” Baker said. “I had 11 people come up and ask if that’s George Barff.”
Baker was blown away at the number of people who recognized Barff and proud, as well, to have captured Barff accurately.
As a kid, Baker lived in Carson City in the 1970s, attending Fremont Elementary school through third grade. Baker’s dad was a miner for Anaconda Copper Mining Co. The family moved around, living in a half a dozen towns in Nevada, including Minden and Gardnerville. Baker said when they moved to the Topaz Ranch Estates, they lived in something like the fourth house in town.
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Baker had always had an interest in art, doing sketching and woodwork as he grew up. While many people told him his artwork was good, they also said he needed to get a real job.
A barber since the age of 22, Baker has had other jobs as well. In Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., he did stand up comedy “off and on” for five years. He also carved carousel animals for a carousel museum and sculpted but said sculptures take up a lot of room.
True to the gypsy roots of his German grandmother, Baker has moved around the West, from life in a school bus with his mom and dad in the Northwest to most recently Sedona, Ariz., where he discovered a thriving town of artists. He moved back to Carson City a year ago with his wife Chris and son, Kirby, 9, and daughter, Ivy, 7.
“I wanted to raise my kids here,” he said. “I got sick of the rain in Oregon and Washington. Portland is a great town if you like rain. But when it’s raining on the Fourth of July, it gets on your nerves. And people are real here.”
About the same time as the move, Baker picked up his paintbrush and began painting at home. People told him his work was good, so he branched out, doing a portrait of Les, owner of the barber shop. It was a time of change in Baker’s life, and painting filled a niche.
“It was weird,” Baker said. “I just started doing it and I couldn’t stop. It was like a nervous habit.”
Baker began to take pictures of customers who came to Les’. Working from the photos, he captured what he thought was unique about that person. Using oils, he completes his portraits in four to five hours. Even though he received no official artistic training, Baker has learned that capturing a person’s personality is important to a portrait.
“I kind of take that old style of portraiture and try to put a twinkle in the eye or get the person to make a funny face,” Baker said.
With his portraits affordable, Baker hopes that barbering will be a hobby in the future and that painting will be the real job people always told him to get. Currently he is putting together a portfolio to send to a portrait broker in the East.
“I’m going to ride the wave and see how far it can take me,” he said.
See nine of Baker’s portraits, including those of Mark Twain, Kit Carson and Sarah Winnemucca, on display at Pioneer Properties, 302. E. William St. Stop in any time between 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday through Saturday to see Baker’s work or the other artists on display.