I guess I started as a teenager. I remember ninth grade woodshop was the first woodturning that I ever did. I think that a piece I made then is still in my mom’s house. As I got older I just kept doing it.
What kind of tools do you work with?
I’m a woodturner but I’m also a part-time carpenter, so I have a shop full of tools, a lot of tools! A table saw, radial arm saw, drill press, band saw, belt sander, chop saw, compressors, several router tables, and a whole flock of small stuff. I guess I do have a lot of power tools. I’ve used them mostly to build houses and do renovations on houses.
So what size work do you usually produce, is it like the huge statues you see people carve with chainsaws, or is it smaller pieces?
There’s no easy answer to that, because I make things from pens up to six foot tall pieces in my woodturning. I do a lot of major work like kitchen cabinets and bathroom renovations, but for the woodturning I do all the way up to six foot floor lamps.
What other art forms influence you?
I’m also an amateur photographer; I’ve taken tens of thousands of photographs. Unfortunately I took a lot of them before digital came around, and then it was expensive, but now that we have digital it’s less expensive. I’m also fairly involved in the theater arts. I also have done a lot of set work for the Catskill Ballet Theatre that does the Nutcracker at UPAC every Christmas. I have worked on a lot of their productions over the past 25 years like Dracula and Alice In Wonderland. I really enjoyed doing stage work.
I once saw a woodworker that only carved bear statues; the only thing he did was make different kinds of bears. Is there a specific theme that you find yourself going back to, or that you like to work with best?
That’s absolutely opposite to me. I never make two things the same unless I’m specifically asked to. I have made stair spindles for people where I’ve had to make three or four exactly the same, but normally I only make one of anything.
People in this trade that make an actual living from it can only do so by mass producing. People who are in it for fun and artwork can do whatever they want, and get by with whatever they get for making one of anything. I didn’t want this to be my job. I didn’t want to have to make sixty two spindles today for a contract, I wanted to be able to work if I wanted to or not, and then make whatever I want to make. It’s a little different. What I like about displaying in the gallery in Hunter is that I make everything and you don’t know I’m making it, and whenever I get it done, if I ever get it done, then I bring it up to you and there’s no pressure on anybody. When someone wants me to make something on a commission there’s a lot of pressure, because then I have to drop everything I’m doing and do it all at once. I’d rather not work that way, although that’s how I do a lot of business. I’d much rather make it when I feel like it and give it to the gallery to sell when I have it. At the gallery you never really know what I’m making until I show up with it. Elle has requested a few things specifically for some customers; but that’s a little different. Usually they just buy whatever is on display.
What’s your favorite kind of tree?
I don’t really have an answer for that, because there are a hundred trees that are wonderful, and they’re all so good. I do a lot of work with Maple because it has a lot of variety, but part of the reason that I do a lot of it is that it’s a native New York tree. I make most things out of local hardwoods. I think most of my signs up in the gallery say “beautiful woods of New York,” because I try to use trees that actually are around here. I do buy some exotics, like Ebony from Africa, and a few other strange woods. I use them in small quantities as accents on pieces, but I don’t buy a lot of wood from outside this area.
Could you think of a favorite piece that you’ve done?
I guess I have a lot of favorites. I’m a competitive woodturner. There is an annual event called Showcase, that’s run by the Northeastern Woodworkers Association out of the Albany area every year. The last weekend in March they have an open event, held in the Saratoga City Center. It covers five states including New York, New England, and New Jersey, so people come from a long way. They have an open competition for woodturning and other woodworking categories including tables, chairs, jewelry boxes, desk accessories, Adirondack Furniture, Intarsia, Carving, and other types of wood working. I think there are about fifteen different categories. I make a lot of pieces for that event. It’s what I do for competition, kind of like running a marathon. I entered six pieces this year and I actually won five ribbons. When I’m turning against all the best turners in the Northeast, five ribbons is kind of unheard of. Last year I won four, previous to that I won three, but normally I win just one ribbon. I’ve been doing this for eleven years now, and every year that I enter a piece I have won at least one ribbon. So that’s part of the pressure, every year I have to make a piece that’s good enough to win one of the prizes.
Keep an eye out for John’s work, he is one of the Kaaterskill Fine Arts & Crafts Gallery’s most sought-after crafters!