Art is a family affair
CARBONDALE, Colorado ” As Bob Johnson described why he’s an artist, he spoke simply.
“I just have this need to make something,” he said, smiling.
Apparently, that runs in the family.
Johnson’s kin are all about creativity, as well. Between him, his children, grandchildren and many of their spouses, there are photographers and musicians, jewelers and cooks. Johnson himself is a woodworker and has had his Carbondale workshop for more than 20 years.
His art, he said, gives him a way to express who is he, where he is in the world.
And he doesn’t understand how people can get along without that. He knows he couldn’t.
“Oh boy. That’s a tough one. I don’t know. I think it was gradual, over a fairly long period of time. Because I, early on as a worker, I was a toolmaker, so there wasn’t much artistic creativity involved in that. So, probably, 40 years ago I started, around 1970 I guess. … I’m still doing a lot of new things. Every time I work, I do something new.”
“Well, of course its beauty. But mainly it’s always alive, even if the tree’s dead, it’s still responding to your environment. It’s moving around, and you have to be able to deal with that in a good way, to kind of respect and honor that aspect of the tree. And I’m a fourth generation wood worker, so I guess it’s kind of in my blood. My grandfather and great-grandfather were woodworkers in Sweden, so I must have picked up on that, too.”
“Well, I think we all are. I think everyone has a need to be creative. It’s just, I suppose the way that you express it depends on what you have around you. It’s space and time and tools and opportunity, and so, I think, in our family, the kids were always allowed to paint on the walls and do whatever the hell they felt like doing. I mean not destructively, but I guess they just, we encouraged them to whatever they felt like doing, as far as expressing themselves goes.”
“It feels great, because there’s our own children and their spouses in the show. And our grandchildren, and their spouses are in the show, so we have three generations of artists.”
“Well, certainly, it’s nice when they appreciate it. I mean, even if they’re not buying it or commissioning it, it’s nice that they appreciate it. It always feels good when somebody says, ‘You know, I really like that’ or ‘That’s beautiful.’ … Most of the stuff I do is utilitarian. If you don’t sleep in it, you eat on it or sit in it, so most of it is, it’s a challenge that way, to make it usable, in a good way. If the chair’s not comfortable and strong enough to hold you, it’s not good for much else. Maybe firewood. And then it should be attractive to look at, but it should be strong and comfortable to begin with. Chairs are the most difficult part of woodworking, to build a chair that works well. So that’s been my challenge for years, is to build chairs that are nice to look at, invite you to sit down and don’t break when you do.”
“No. Sometimes the designs are intimidating. I mean, if I come up with an idea that creates some, you know, problems as far as getting it together and getting my work done, sometimes that’s a little intimidating, but, no, in general, I really enjoy the effect that the material has on me. It’s not work. Well, it’s not a job. Let’s put it that way. It’s my work. There’s a big difference.”
(He began a story about a bed he made when he was visiting his grandson) “Everybody was waiting for me to finish the bed so we could leave, and when I did it, it was like four o’clock in the morning. So I walked upstairs from the basement, and I woke my wife up, and I said, ‘Pat. It’s finished.’ And I realized at that minute, that’s as close as I’d ever come to having a child. So that’s the creative process for me as a man. You know, you have the conception of an idea, then you have its time to ferment and grow and become mature, and then it’s born and it’s out in the world on its own. And women do that just simply because they’re equipped to do it, but men can’t. So that’s as close as I can get to having a child. … Well, that’s probably why I do it so much, the feeling when it’s finished.”
“Relationships. That’s the most important thing.”
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