Don Best is a woodcraft artist and fifth-generation Mainer based in Norway, Maine. He received a degree in painting from Maine College of Art and is a self-taught wood sculptor. His experiences as a boy, building scrap-wood bobsleds and gathering driftwood in his canoe on Sebago Lake, were the foundation for his love of the material. As an adult, Don became familiar with the world of formal craft while attending high-end craft shows around the country for a rug weaver out of Peru, Maine. By the late 1980s, Don had settled in Bethel, Maine, and established a fine craft store called Bethel Craft Works where he consigned local artisans and created his own woven baskets and paper jewelry.
Don began attending workshops at the Haystack School in 2000 where he created his first formal wood sculptures inspired by his ecstatic dance practice at the Harrison Ballroom. The first figure he carved was a dancer called “Matilda” whose arms were whittled from bits of a tree branch, and whose dress was colored with the same acrylic washes Don uses today. From then on, he began developing his wood carving practice, building a body of work that by the early 2000s, was selling at fine craft galleries along the Maine coast.
Best’s first solo show in 2001, in Norway, Maine at the Commons Collective, of which he was a founding member, marked the end of his early figural work and the beginning of the sculptural work he is now known for. Inspired by his wife Suzanne, a veterinarian, the imagery in Don's sculptures shifted from humans to animals. Using mostly basswood, his process is uniquely additive and subtractive, shaping, attaching, and reusing pieces from previous projects, then carving and sanding their surface to create layers of texture, and finally, finishing with woodburning, acrylic wash and colored pencil. Don's work evokes qualities of lightheartedness, sadness, joy, and humor, and considers the complexities of our changing environment through the eyes of wildlife and our closest animal companions.