I was a contractor. I bought a hobby lathe on sale. I burned out the motor in 6 months, so I knew I had found my calling.
I call it “reclaiming the souls of trees”.
In Los Angeles there are trees from all over the world planted in backyards and sidewalks. There are 400 year old oaks that were here before there were towns with Spanish names in California.
If the trees get sick or the roots interfere with buildings, they are cut down. I intercept trucks carrying pieces of felled trees and his friends tip me off when a tree is to be cut. Once I watched the bees return to the empty space where their hive had been.
When crafting a bowl, it’s really moving to know that there’s a landscape locked therein.
What better way to honor the life and death of a tree than to turn part of it into a beautiful and useful object? Such objects share secrets of the tree’s life: its orderly annual rings tell its age and chronicle drought years and show scars and stains. A humble sometimes very long life is there to be shared.
Trees grow up and down at the same time, like our waking and dreaming states. I believe there are many touch points between the life of trees and the spiritual world in which we live.
John sends a weekly newsletter to customers and friends. Trying to express his experiences with the wood, he accompanies photos of his latest work with poems.
Making bowls has become a vessel for him to make words.
14 July 2013
These are Some of my favorite trees growing in California.
The Olive, of course is world famous and has been a symbol of wisdom
Since the beginnings of human civilization in Greece and Rome.
It was brought here early by the Spaniards when California was still Mexico.
Eucalyptus was brought during the gold rush days
By some Australians who hadn’t found any gold.
They knew they could carry enough eucalyptus seeds
To start whole hardwood forests and maybe make some money.
The hero of this little collection is madrone
It is the indigenous one of this group It craved artesian water so much
it chose to live with the redwoods
Who crowd in over the deep water and all but shut out the light.
Madrone’s ally in life with the redwoods is the forest fire
Redwoods bake in their thick bark during forest fires
While madrone have bark they shed immediately in a fire
And because root in the deep water, they can pour it down their outside
And so survive a big fire that will topple most of the redwoods
Then the madrone can have their day in the sun.
7 July 2013
There is something about the sound of a chainsaw:
So loud and so profound, so isolating and so manly
So completely unresponsive to any dumb chick question
Like “whattaya mean by “manly”. It’s like a machine gun in a firefight…
it’s frenzy and my soul sometimes craves it.
It’s the best tool I know to manage anger…and I mean my own.
Because its so loud and so dangerous it gets my full attention.
Without putting up a demand.
And It’s the best tool I know for cutting a tree into chunks
That I can then turn into delicate bowls like flowers.
17 November 2012 A Bowl of One’s Own
A man needs a bowl of his own.
It’s a fine tradition to share
I believe in it: mixing and sharing a bowl of salad
Big and wood and round on the bottom
And a little bit heavy to pass.
It’s good at Thanksgiving Dinner
To hold the communal bowl for your sweet neighbor
As it makes its round of the table….
But here’s the thing:
You don’t want to fall too all in
With the whole communal bit.
You want to keep your own bowl aside ‘til after supper
Then snag your favorite left-over,
Mix it up in your own man bowl
Some jerks of turkey, some cloves of garlic,
Stuffing to perfection…a couple of Serrano peppers…
Leave it in the fridge for a midnight taste
And finish off the wilt at breakfast.
See what I mean?
You have to have your own.
It’s not a thing you share.
Well, maybe with a curious child, if you get caught…
A niece or nephew, whatever…but it’s always up to you.
That’s the rare beauty of it.
Be a man: get a bowl of your own.
22 September 2012
I am thrilled
To have pieces of olive
Large enough to make salad bowls and explore.
Mr & Mrs. Klinger of Sherman Oaks
Had to sacrifice a magnificent
Olive tree that grew in their front yard.
I was honored when they called to say they had seen me on TV
With Huell Howser and would prefer to see something I make from their beloved tree,
Than imagine what might happen to it after it’s hauled to the dump.
The Goddess Athena, the owl and the olive tree are ancient Greek symbols of wisdom.
I know the scent of fresh olive wood when it’s cut, smells sweet and fresh and healthy
I want it in my kitchen.
The first set of bowls I made show the face of an owl, you’ll see, presented like a drawing in the wood.
I’m drawn to discover more as if I got a whiff of the big tree’s soul and I really don’t know anything yet.