Artist Profile: Barry Gross

Made from a cholla cactus skeleton inlaid with turquoise, this pen, a 2012 NICHE Award finalist, was inspired by a recent trip to the Southwest.

Barry Gross’s art pens have sat on the desk in the Oval Office. They’ve won prestigious awards. They’ve been used by politicians, surgeons, filmmakers, a concert pianist and a self-proclaimed “pirate.” All of these folks would agree with Gross’s motto: “Life’s too short to carry an ugly pen.”

Gross, a sales manager for a medical supply company by day, discovered pen making about eight years ago, practically on a dare. He was teaching a class on sculpting with a scroll saw, and a colleague (and a pen maker) jeered, “Only real men use lathes.” “I’ll show you,” Gross thought, and he immediately went to work fashioning a pen with his saw.

His first creation was rather lopsided, but Gross was determined. Little did he know that eight years later, BG Artforms pens would be sought after by the likes of Steven Spielberg, former Vice President Dick Cheney and Jimmy Buffett.

Although he still crafts many pens from fine woods, Gross’s signature pieces are fashioned from acrylic with tiny objects embedded within. Flattened watch parts, surgical scalpels and beer bottle caps give each pen an “I spy” quality. They demand that you look twice.

“I’m always looking at different things with an inquisitive eye,” Gross says, “asking myself, ‘Can I use that?’ “

There doesn’t appear to be much that Gross can’t use. He’s incorporated coffee beans, split peas and pasta into his pens. A trip to the Southwest inspired pieces made with cholla cactus and turquoise. He’s made casts of coins he found while scuba diving, working the silver replicas into pens with historical allure.

Commissioned pieces have incorporated heirloom watches that no longer run (a recent pen used a customer’s grandfather’s 1932 bar mitzvah watch). Gross will even set the faceplate’s hands to reflect personally significant times and dates. The miniscule gears are artistically set in the acrylic.

The pens, says Gross, are the ultimate “Honey, look at this!” pieces. You have to wonder how he put each tiny object into the pen, and what he’ll use next. Rest assured, it won’t be boring. After all, he exuberantly exclaims, “The crazier the idea, the better the art.”

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