After Edward Barron took off his silvery sneakers and dark blue T-shirt, he softly smoothed his grey hair and then removed his pale wash jeans, the last piece of clothing on him.
Supported by a cane, Barron stepped onto a low wooden cabinet covered with a black piece of cloth at the front of the studio at 450 Harrison Ave. and started his day’s work. He took his first pose – leaning forward with his knees slightly bent, his whole body resting on the cane, looking like a sculpture of a nude mountain climber.
“Ed, can you switch to another pose, this time, five minutes please, ” asked Tom Ouellette, a 58-year-old artist from Cambridge. Barron nodded to him, straightened up with his shoulders back and down, arching his back a bit lower.
Not many people over 50 add the line “nude model” to their resumes. But five years ago, Barron decided to do just that. Once, he was a married father of three living in Fort Myers, Fla., working in marketing. Now, he lives an openly gay life in the South End. Still, for a man who once joined nudist colonies with his wife and prefers to walk around his apartment unclothed, the change to modeling wasn’t all that unusual.
“A nude model is pretty much like other jobs but you don’t have to worry much about your wardrobe,” said Barron with a wicked grin.
For Ouellette, Barron’s contribution is one without which the artist couldn’t pursue his art, painting “living” images of human figures unclothed.
“This [nude modeling] makes many people uncomfortable, because they associate beauty with sex,” Ouellette said. But “the human body is a complex machine that many of us artists are fascinated by.”
Nonetheless, it takes a certain sense of ease to model in the buff. Edward Barron has just that.
Slim, with good muscle tone for his age, Barron, at 5-foot-6 inches and 150 pounds, is confident about his body.
“I am not a young hunk but I am in excellent shape,” he says simply.
Keeping this shape comes at a great cost.
“I don't do exercise because my modeling is exercise. I work my body hard,” said Barron.
The hardest wear, he says, comes when he takes extreme “gesture poses,” such as bending over with his left shoulder stacked above his right, his feet in a tiptoe. He generally has to hold these for 1 to 5 minutes so that artists can do quick sketches, a fundamental skill in creating figure drawings.
“It would stretch all my muscles in every direction you could imagine,” he said. “That’s like yoga in a sense, isometric exercise.”
This is hard work for an older man and carries some risk of getting hurt. Barron takes it in stride.
“I want to become immortal like the Mona Lisa,” he says with a smile.
Living a Nudist Lifestyle
When Barron gets home from work in the evening, the first thing he does is remove his clothing. He always feels more comfortable naked, he says.
(Below: sketch of Barron by Pamela Pindell)
“From when I was a small child, I have always had a feeling of freedom with no clothes on,” said Barron. Born in 1952, he grew up on a farm in Trenton in northern Florida. He still remembers enjoying playing naked in the water.
Though he has three siblings, the only family member he has a close relationship to his 80-year-old mother, Lillie D. Barron.
She recalled that her son was a “very sensitive person,” fond of animals.
Barron married his now ex-wife, in 1980, he soon introduced her to a nudist lifestyle, but it eventually brought tension into their marriage, he said. He kept up the lifestyle himself, said, but did so surreptitiously.
“I would visit the nude beaches in Florida on my own whenever I had the opportunity,” Barron recalled.
During the following nine years, Barron held several jobs as a marketing manager in different Florida companies. Laid off from his last marketing job in June 2003, he started a flower business in in Punta Gorda, but it, too, didn't succeed.
“I applied for numerous jobs and I couldn't get any interviews,” he said. “Nobody wants to hire someone at my age.”
Even so, Barron, then 56, did not give up hope.
His daughter, Veronica, now 27, a Boston University student who was a nude art model part-time, suggested that her dad try to do the same in Florida.
“His business [had] collapsed,” she said, “I know he is interested in visual art, so I said to him, ‘You can always try art modeling.’”
A Change of Careers
Barron visited the class on a Monday and then began modeling for it the following week.
“It was an exhilarating experience,” said Barron.
“My biggest fear was being able to hold an interesting pose for the class,” he said. Before his first session, he practiced posing in front of the mirror.
“I learned that the longest time for a pose is 20 minutes,” he said. “So I programmed my iPod with 20-minute music sets and I would start the music when I began my pose and would stay in the pose until the music set was over.”
But if his work life was reviving, his personal life was fracturing and his marriage eventually ended, he said.
That same year, Barron moved to Boston and has been living by himself in a small, cozy studio in a four-floor apartment building in the South End. The walls are filled with different nude portraits of himself.
“I adopted the nude lifestyle again and I now live my life nude,” said Barron, “and I love it.”
As to his modeling job, Barron’s mother is more supportive than most of the other family members, but she still feels awkward, “I am too conservative to care for his nude modeling. But I feel that it is his life for him to do as he pleases.”
Still, Barron has three rules for wearing clothing: “First, don’t get arrested for being nude
in public. Second, if it is cold, put some clothes on. And don’t embarrass someone you
Less payment but more joy
Modeling, like all careers, has its busy season. Barron says he had about 60 modeling gigs in the peak month of October. It’s when painters get ready for the holiday season to come.
Though he had but one day off, all that work is necessary to pay the bills. Charging From $14 to $50 an hour, Barron earns roughly $1,400 a month in slow periods and about $3,000 a month when he’s busy. It’s still a lot less than the $65,000 he earned in his last marketing job.
But, he says, he earns more in other ways. He enjoys his work and loves living in the same city as two of his children (his son, Mark, 23, is a chef in Jamaica Plain).
“I’ve come to realize that doing what you love doing is far more important than making a lot of money,” Barron said.
His children say they can see their father’s happiness and encourage him to keep modeling.
“I’ve never seen him so happy in my life,” said Mark, his youngest. “I’ve never thought of my dad being a happy person until now. … He needed this change of lifestyle and he is finally able to express himself fully and really be true to who he is.”
Said his daughter Veronica, “Obviously, it is not physically easy or pays well, but I am glad that he has a job he likes.”
Working to be the best
And though a relative newcomer to his career, Barron earns praise from those who have worked with him.
“Ed is one of the best models we've ever had,” said Kathleen Marsh, the director of Boston Arts Academy. “He is conscientious, professional and understanding of the artists' perspective.”
Added Ouellette, “He doesn’t just sit there, but he researches, practices, and takes poses that suggest movement and liveliness, something that many other models don’t do.
Besides doing his own work well, Barron has used his marketing skills to build a website to promote his modeling work. He then helped other models give information about themselves on the site for free.
As much as he enjoys his work, Baron knows he can’t keep going forever.
“In two more years, I will be able to draw back my Social Security,” he said. “And I will cut back my modeling.”
In the meantime, he offers this tip to others seeking a successful modeling career: “Show up, and show up on time.”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.