His work was never done.

Those who collaborated with lighting designer and former Southern Theater artistic director Jeff Bartlett will tell you that in his mind he never completed any of his projects.

"A show would be closed, the artists would have moved on to their next works, but he'd still be talking about how to finish the lights to his satisfaction," said Sandy Moore, who worked with Bartlett for over 20 years as Southern's development director then managing director.

That diligence often resulted in sharp, sometimes stunning lighting on actors, dancers and musicians, not just at the Southern, the Minneapolis theater where Bartlett worked for 40 years, but also at venues in New York, California and elsewhere when he went on tour with Minnesota arts troupes.

Bartlett died at 73 on June 26 after a stroke. As was his wish, he died in Alstead, N.H., his family's spiritual seat, where he had gone for his closing act.

Four years prior, he had been diagnosed with melanoma, Moore said.

As a mentor and artistic midwife, Bartlett also helped usher the birth of many performing arts companies. It's hard to overstate the impact that Jeff had on artistic ecology of the Twin Cities, said Wendy Knox, founder of Minneapolis' Frank Theatre.

"He and his team at the Southern helped so many groups grow up," Knox said. "Theatre de la Jeune Lune started out there, Zeitgeist, Frank."

Ragamala Dance Company had its first show at the Southern under Bartlett's encouragement. When they first went to see if they could present work at the theater, founder Ranee Ramaswamy was thinking that it would be a rental. But Bartlett, instead, asked her to present her show and share her ideas.

"He listened to us and gave wise feedback not just about lighting but about what the audience sees and how to make it the best experience for the audience and performers," Ramaswamy said.

Bartlett also loved to light bodies, and to pinpoint things that were surprising, quirky or jewel-like.

"He was a painter with lights," Moore said. "And he believed that dancers were moving light catchers."

Bartlett moved to Minnesota to study a big, long horn. Born in Port Washington, N.Y., to engineer father Robert Bartlett and homemaker mother Mari, he grew up in a family of artisans and art-makers. Family members worked as musicians, theater professionals and wood carvers.

He showed his artistic leanings at Schreiber High School in Port Washington, where he was active in orchestra and theater. He began college on the bassoon at Boston University but left early to continue his studies with his teacher, John Miller, who had been hired by the Minnesota Orchestra.

At some point, his ardor for his instrument lessened, and Bartlett found his way to what was then called Guthrie II, the second space of the Guthrie Theater, in the late 1970s. He started working there as a tech and gradually worked his way up to run the Southern after it had detached from the mothership.

"I don't think he had the ambition to become an artistic director," said Zorongo Flamenco founder Susana di Palma, who knew Bartlett for 40-plus years. "It just happened little by little, like a dream creating itself."

Moore was Bartlett's first full-time hire. As an artistic director, he had a can-do spirit, even if some of the choices raised practical questions, Moore recalled. Once, he hung a grand piano from the lighting grid for a performance.

"Was it safe, I don't know," Moore recalled. "I said, just don't stand under it."

As a collaborator, he was legendary for his meticulousness, even if that pace tested patience.

"You would give him a basic idea and he would make it better," di Palma said.

Bartlett left the Southern after it encountered fiscal difficulties 15 years ago. He subsequently worked at Carleton College and found a new sideline doing public art installations, including lighting St. Paul's Landmark Center.

An avid outdoorsman, Bartlett loved canoeing Minnesota's lakes and rivers. He also was a fire-keeper at the Native American Sun Dance at Lake Andes, S.D., for 28 years. This year's ceremony was dedicated to him.

Bartlett's two marriages — to flutist Jo Anne Poole Bartlett, with whom he had a daughter, and to social worker Jan Wenig — ended in divorce. Survivors include daughter Sarah Wood Bartlett of Edina; brother Dan Bartlett and sister Carol Bartlett Renzelman, both of New Hampshire.

Private services have been held. A public memorial will be scheduled in Minneapolis for a later date.