Oliver O’Connor Barrett (1908-1987)

Oliver O’Connor Barrett (1908-1987)


Oliver O’Connor Barrett who is better known as Connor Barrett was a surrealist sculptor and artist who worked in New York and the UK. His most prolific period took place between 1940 and 1975. He studied at Faircroft College in England but was mainly self-taught as a sculptor and eventually became a member of the Sculptors’ Guild. Having moved to the States in 1940 where he settled with his family in New York City, he participated to a number of important exhibitions and was at one time Instructor of Sculpture at the Cooper Union Art School, Museum of Modern Art, New York City. In 1943 and in 1949 his sculpture of The Angry Carpenter won him an American gold medal and he was awarded the Audubon Artists’ Prize in 1948 and Medal in 1950. In 1962 Barrett was commissioned to create the Sculpture Continuum Playground for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, one of the largest world’s fairs to be held in the United States, attended by more than 50 million people. It included an elephant which is now displayed in front of Willow Road Elementary School in New York City. In subsequent years Barrett lived in several American Cities including New Orleans and Palm Beach before returning to Great Britain and retiring to the Welsh Valley of Cwm Prysor near Trawsfynydd where he died at the age of 79. Connor Barrett was also a poet and music composer and was the author of a several books including Myself Emerging published in 1980. Connor Barrett was the brother of Roderick Barrett whose work can be seen in the VBLT collection. Some of his artwork is in the collection of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. His papers 1930-80 are in the Smithsonian Institution in the USA.


Connor Barrett’s most important work was sculpture, both statuary and bas-relief. Although hardwood was his main medium, he also worked in stone, bronze and terracotta. In his book Myself Emerging the artist describes the development of his style from the purely figurative work of the 1930s, through the abstraction of figures during the 1950s and 1960s reminiscent of Gauguin, Klee and Henry Moore, to the final return to realistic portraiture. This bust of Letty belongs to this latter phase, one of a series of similar busts including a self-portrait. The face here has an expression which is strong, vigorous and very distinctive. Letty was a friend of Connor Barrett and his first wife, Joan, during the 1930’s.


  • 1933 – Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK
  • 1942 and 1943 – New Orleans Art Centre, New Orleans, USA
  • 1945 – Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, USA
  • 1946, 1948 and 1950 – Audubon Artists
  • 1949 – 3rd Sculpture International, Philadelphia Museum of Art


BARRETT, Oliver O’Connor, Little Benny Wanted a Pony, Illustrated by Scarry, Richard, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1950

BARRETT, Oliver O’Connor, Myself Emerging: A Book of Sculpture and Poetry, Colchester: Continuum Studios, 1980

Credit : Information supplied by Mrs. Michaela Barrett, Barrett’s widow


Evelyne Bell