You can take the boy out of the Lego, but you can't take the Lego out of the boy. Building stuff has been a favorite form of play for me since as early as I can remember, and the variety of materials and techniques employed have continued to evolve over the years. I have, however, recognized one central theme that seems to have woven itself throughout the entirety of my creative explorations: Story. I'm a junky for it. Narrative, age, history, tradition, meaning, culture, experience, lineage: these all speak to the riches I see in "story." Whether it comes freely and flippantly from whatever happens to cross your path, like a penny on a city sidewalk, or is obtained through great efforts and intentions, like the pursuit of the perfect marriage of barrel and grain bill, my craftsmanship must have a story. These are a sample of my creation experiments and a peak into the stories they tell.
Date: January 2013 | Name: Spirit Aging | Description: My dream for starting a whiskey distillery is a plan I expect to be able to begin building on by 2025. It's a dream whose seeds can be traced all the way back to my "bread phase," where fascinations with grain, yeast, temperature, and time were explored. While the resources are yet out of my reach to really pour myself into this endeavor, suffice it to say, I've been doing my homework and playing around with some variables to get a handle on guiding the sensory profiles to tell the story I'm after.
Date: February 2014 | Name: Coat Tree | Description: What started as a "honey-do" project turned into an artistic journey of coat-hanging goodness. As with most of my designs, this one started with a choice available material (scraps of salvaged old Wisconsin barn wood - fir, I believe - from my friend, the amazing Zachary Hoeppner) and the stubborn resolve to marry it with worthy components. A trip to my local ReStore provided the used square head machine bolts and Allen wrenches for the fasteners and hooks, and another trek to the city dump gave me the salvaged lawn mower blade (made in the U.S.A. by Honda) for the base bracket. The finishing touch was the steel hoop I made using my brother's welder and self-made hoop bender. My brother, Philip Johnson, is an artistic craftsman himself who recently established the Glass Bottle Lighting Company in Wisconsin.
Date: April 2014 | Name: Hammer and Holster | Description: The black walnut was salvaged from my mother-in-law's backyard. I claimed a few of the larger chunks that were destined for the wood splitter (most of them too small for lumber) and left them to dry in my garage for the winter. What started Easter weekend as messing around with a hatchet and a hand planer, turned into a full blown infatuation with making a functional family heirloom. There were no power-tools or sandpaper used on the wood; only my own hands and steel blades ever touched the wood (prior to finishing with raw linseed oil). The head was salvaged from my local ReStore, which I then polished and pinned in place using a special piece of metal (no buffalo were harmed in the pinning of this hammer). The leather holster is a work in progress, but needless to say, I just had to use copper rivets to join it.
Date: May 2014 | Name: iPhone/Wallet Holster | Description: While in the process of designing a leather satchel, and realizing it would take quite a bit of time planning and building, I decided to create a quick, simple phone/wallet holster that I could use right away. The leather is from a white-tailed deer that I shot over 20 years ago and had tanned here in Wisconsin. I designed it using one single cut of leather, folded meaningfully to provide the "pocket" functionality I wanted without having to assemble multiple cuts. It was then "stitched" using hammered copper rivets, wet molded using a wooden form, dyed with coffee grounds, and finished by baking on a coat of beeswax.
Date: May 2014 | Name: Copper Coasters | Description: These were basically an excuse to make something with hammered copper that my beautiful wife, bless her soul for all her patience with my fascinations and ambitions, could get some use out of. They were beaten with a ball-peen hammer over the end-grain of a small piece of black walnut. I then affixed its leather bottom using only friction and copper rivets. I'm in the process of figuring out if and how they can be sealed with beeswax to protect against tarnishing so quickly.