La Mesa master woodcarver creativity soars

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La Mesa artist and woodcarver, Jack Johnson, has a unique story to tell. He creates beautiful hand carved miniature roses and musical instruments, which are so intricate and precise that they look real. To top off that talent, Johnson is nearly totally blind. He has only 10 percent vision in one eye left due to macular degeneration and he expects to loose the last of his sight soon.

But he is a happy sort of guy and does not seem to let his plight get him down or make him depressed. He enjoys showing folks his artwork and workshop.

La Mesa artist and woodcarver, Jack Johnson, has a unique story to tell. He creates beautiful hand carved miniature roses and musical instruments, which are so intricate and precise that they look real. To top off that talent, Johnson is nearly totally blind. He has only 10 percent vision in one eye left due to macular degeneration and he expects to loose the last of his sight soon.

But he is a happy sort of guy and does not seem to let his plight get him down or make him depressed. He enjoys showing folks his artwork and workshop.

Recently touring his small wood shop, he has all his woodcarving tools and other objects he needs displayed in an organized way so he can reach out and find them quickly, almost without me realizing that he had their placement memorized.

The wood roses are carved from rosehips that started out as gnarly trunks of wood from 100 year old rose bushes. They were grown on a historic ranch, high on the hill of Rattlesnake Mountain which overlooks Lakeside and El Cajon. Most East County folks know where the lighted Star of Bethlehem is located at Christmas time, well that area is where the old rosewood came from.

“An old fellow by the name of Scrubs gave the wood to me because he knew I was learning the craft.” said Johnson. 

He has many gnarly rose hips marked with white chalk that will define just where each rose pedal begins. The rose hips grow in circular layers so the rose is carved following the circle. Some rose hips are only one-fourth of an inch in diameter and some grow up to four inches across. And he can carved them all, using very small tools. He figures he has more than 400 hours of carving time in just one rose sculpture. 

Johnson has been searching for someone to donate his artistic roses to, maybe a church or historical society, or someone who would appreciate his talent. Recently he decided on Glen Beck, a Christian Radio talk show host, who is raising funds to help needy Christian families. The families are coming from foreign countries, trying to escape dangerous situations they are facing in their non-Christian lands. As for money, $25,000 is needed for each family and funds are being raised with auctions from donations of dedicated listeners like Johnson. He thinks his roses will find an appreciative audience and new homes and help desperate families too.

He is also preparing for a Veterans Association Craft Show. His detailed miniature musical instruments that include, violins, guitars, mandolins and ukuleles will be shown. They are all mathematically correct and to scale, carved out of Koa wood from Hawaii. He said that The Center For Blind has just set up an arts and crafts department and he wants to add to their menu and help them in some way as well. He has 27 potential patents pertaining to musical instruments to his credit.

His miniature violins, guitars and mandolins have set a president at Southerby’s Auction House and Christies’ Auction House, “They didn’t know how to classify them” he said. He has donated some of his miniature instruments to Fairbanks School of Performing Arts. 

Before Johnson lost his eyesight he was a musical instrument maker. He was a self-taught artist and was a member of the Southern California Instrument Makers and Southern California Association of Violin Makers. But his favorite instrument to build or repair was the Hawaiian Acoustic Lap Top Steel Guitars. They were made of Hawaiian Koa wood. He also repaired violin bow sticks with 120 Arabian horse hairs, combed to perfection. He is a man dedicated to his artwork.

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