IN HENRY BARROW'S Glen Echo workshop, a black-clad woman with tangerine nails and a rainbow-hued purse rhapsodizes over the colors.

"I just want to stay here forever," she sighs, flipping a swatch booklet of deep cobalts and violets and roses.

Barrow, a furniture artist, is making a bench for her; in his shop, rough planes grow lustrous, and drab surfaces acquire feverish tints. But as an artist-in-residence for the National Park Service, he is also a sort of entertainer. To understand best how he blends public duty with his own unique aesthetic, you need to see a complete Barrow creation -- like the brilliant raspberry desk with one side poised on a cone.

Barrow is one of about 30 artists-in-residence at Glen Echo Park, the former amusement ground revamped into a public cultural center. The artists -- a diverse crew including a blacksmith, a potter and puppeteers who stage commedia dell'arte-style fables -- have a deal with the park. They trade classes, public access and a small rent for studio space.

While Barrow's workshop is public, the wiry, baseball-capped artist takes his stylistic cues from himself.

Strong color, for instance, enchants him. A Maryland native, Barrow lived on a farm and later in Africa before settling here as a photographer. It was only about seven years ago, via exposure to stained glass, that Barrow grew obsessed with the deep, lustrous hues that distinguish his work.

"People like her are few and far between," Barrow says of the woman in black. "Most people can't handle color -- it scares people off. Color's a drug. People have a hard time handling lime greens; pure cadmium red in a big surface is real seductive. It makes people's knees quiver, their hearts beat fast. I like to think of colors that make your eyes pop out of your head."

Barrow also loves colorful people, who become his friends and his inspiration. "I cultivate weird characters," he notes.

On weekdays, the studio can resemble a leisurely, sawdusted salon. Friends arriving by bicycle or motorcycle may sand some wood while discussing fine points of carpentry; mapmakers, piano tuners, metalsmiths and other artist pals drop by to swap answers to structural problems. Barrow reveres as a muse the image of Britain's Koo Stark, the blue-movie star who once dated Prince Andrew. Barrow recently decorated a brilliant magenta chair, now at a Baltimore gallery, with a nude portrait of Stark.

"She could have been queen of England! She could have been queen!" he says passionately.

Not surprisingly, his work leaves some people unsettled. "Maybe because it's furniture and people have fixed ideas of what it should be," he says.

Even his least conventional pieces, however, sport lavish finishes that give colors the vibrance of Yellowstone hot springs. And some pieces, like a cobalt chiffonier with authentic gold starbursts, are straightforwardly lovely. To Barrow, furniture simply offers a medium for his pet visual themes.

"I'm interested in the structure, design {and} the sculptural aspects of furniture. I just like putting things together," he says.

In fact, furniture as a medium for him "could just be a phase," he says.

Barrow's old-style technique, on the other hand, is anything but transient.

"He works to very high, very exacting standards -- his furniture brings new meaning to the word refined," says Wretha Hanson, owner of the Franz Bader Gallery in Northwest Washington, which recently showed Barrow's work.

Barrow tries to share his craftsmanship by offering occasional weekend workshops.

"I teach {students} as much as I can in two days, with lectures, demonstrations and discussions," he says.

Some weekends you can also see Barrow in action with plane, sand and varnish. On Friday evenings, if you call in advance, Barrow will happily brush off finished works to give you a tour. It's a good way to explore the strong opinions and strong colors that make up his world.

"Cobalt, magenta, gilding, French polish, thalo blue, schoolbus yellow" are the colors he likes best, Barrow says. "If {people are} not interested in color, I say go somewhere else."