Form follows function in the engineering world, which doesn’t mean what they create is attractive, Johnny Green says, but during his first decade of retired life, he is finding what is considered attractive is rather subjective, especially with the works he creates out of wood.
Green came up in the sand and gravel business. His family designed and built huge pieces of machinery meant to move earth and rock on land or collect in waterways. At 74, he spends much of his time in a spacious workshop turning wood into art.
It’s a far cry from his days of working with massive pieces of welded and bolted metal machinery.
“Doing anything artistic is totally foreign to me,” Green said. “Form follows function and I don’t care what it looks like as long as it does the job.”
That was before he quit his “day job,” as he likes to say, and found wood turning to be addictive.
Ten years ago, Green and Dianne, his wife of 52 years, were on a cruise on the St. Lawrence River in Canada. Because the ship’s usual dock was out, their ship made a stop at an island where residents set up a tourist stop to sell their wares. One was a woodturner.
Being stuck on the small island for a long while, Green purchased a bowl from the craftsman and struck up a conversation with him.
“He said you know, you may like this, but be careful because it can get addictive,” Green said. “People who play this as a hobby just get hung.”
That was in 2008, “and I just instantly got addicted to it,” Green said.
Soon after Green purchased a large lathe with added equipment to take larger pieces “because that was what I was used to.”
Green has designed a lathe of sorts that allows him to turn even larger pieces of wood, branches, even small trees. It’s kind of his trademark. In fact, after becoming involved with the American Association of Woodturners, he was showing one of his particularly large works when he was approached by a stranger.
“He said, ‘Mr. Green I want to tell you how much I enjoy looking at everything, but I just want to shake your hand, shake the hand of a man with a death wish to turn something like that,’ ” he said with a hearty laugh.
Most people don’t realize the things he does to make turning large pieces of wood a lot safer. Because of his background in working with big machinery, safety is at the forefront of his mind while he was setting up his lathe and developing the method he uses to turn large pieces of wood.
Although he claims not to have an “art bone” in his body, Green has created many pieces of art and sold some, one to a museum in San Antonio. He said he just does what he wants and it works or doesn’t.
“Going from the engineering background of form follows function, wood turning can be almost anything you want it to be and the standard of what is good is not some mathematical formula ... that you can measure. This is somebody’s opinion of whether they like it or not. That’s highly variable and the opinions even change over time,” he laughs.
Still, as people admire his work, Green said he is still surprised by the compliments.
“I go out there and do my thing and one of the most surprising things of all is people actually like what I do,” Green said, “and I still am amazed at that.”
If you’d like to view more of Green’s work, you can check it out online at www.jbgreen-woodart.com.