Monday, October 11, 2010

Creative for life: Rusty Johnson

Rusty Johnson, The Cyclops, Basswood, 2"x2"x2"
Guest Author: Shelby Woods

Creative people who are not full-time artists frequently need some way to satisfy their instinct to create and build something with their hands, according to Rusty Johnson.  For Johnson, carving figures, small caricatures, and animals out of wood has been his creative outlet for the last 12 years. He has been retired for one year and his enthusiasm for his craft has only grown with his increased spare time.

Originally from Winfield, Louisiana, Johnson is now an avid woodcarver, member of the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition, and a long-time Tulsan. He graduated from the University of Tulsa in 1965 with a degree in what was then called “commercial art.” He then volunteered for the navy and served there for three years. He has worked as a commercial artist in the Public Relations department for the University of Tulsa, the Continental Heritage press and finally the American association of Petroleum Geologists.
Rusty Johnson, Mark Twain Hommage, Basswood, 6" tall

His early woodcarving projects were inspired by the work of Oklahoma Cherokee artist Willard Stone. Johnson also expressed his profound interest in birds by doing one realistic carving of a black-capped chickadee and some anthropomorphic cartoon birds. Johnson added humorous cartoons and caricatures to his repertoire. As he put it, being the only creative type working around so many scientists, he developed a sense of humor that shows in his woodcarvings still. Many of his pieces are silly, playful, or exaggerated.

Despite the humor in his work, Johnson is quite serious about developing his woodcarving technique. He recently took a trip to Austria and spent two weeks at the very traditional Geisler-Moroder School of woodcarving. The school is known for medieval and baroque woodworking techniques and subjects. There he sharpened his woodcarving skills and succeeded in completing work worthy of master wood carvers, including a baroque-style depiction of the Madonna.

Rusty Johnson, Black-Capped Chickadee, Tupelo, 12" tall
Johnson is also competes in regional, national, and international woodcarving competitions and is part of the Eastern Oklahoma Woodcarvers Association, the National Wood Carvers Association and the Affiliated Woodcarvers, Ltd. He says that Tulsa is a good place for woodcarving because of the wealth of woodcarving resources in the area and his ability to enter competitions from anywhere. Mr. Johnson won first prize at the Caricature Carvers of America annual competition with his caricature of Abraham Lincoln. Most recently, Johnson has had one of his carvings accepted into the Brady Craft Alliance’s VisionMakers 2010 show, which just closed at Living Arts of Tulsa.

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