MEMBER NEWS: John Lucas, Saprta, TN - Former TTU photographer goes from needing to work with wood t
Monday, April 4, 2016
HERALD-CITIZEN: Former TTU photographer goes from needing to work with wood to wanting to (04/03/2016)
When John Lucas first got involved in woodworking, it wasn’t for the love of the art, it was out of necessity. He was a college student with no money and no furniture. He decided to build his own. After studying books and magazines on the subject, he was able to create things like bookshelves and closets. From there, he progressed to learning even more so he could make Christmas presents for friends and family, again stemming from being a college student with limited funds. He devoured woodworking books and articles.
“I tell people that I studied under all the greats — if they wrote an article,” Lucas said.
He turned out to have a knack for it. He had grown up watching his grandfather work with wood as a hobby.
“We’d go up to visit, and he’d all of his work set out and everybody was oohing and ahhing. We lived about 100 miles away from him, so I never got to study under him per se, but the seed was planted,” Lucas said.
While Lucas was exploring the more artistic side of woodworking, he stumbled across a magazine article about how to make hand mirrors with a router. He thought the wooden hand mirrors would be the perfect thing to sell to make some money, so he set to work perfecting that particular item. Today, it is one of his specialties. He has mirrors of all shapes and sizes, including one made to look like a match and matchbox, one in the form of a knife cutting a carrot on a cutting board, and even one inspired from the 2012 Mayan “end of the world” prediction that has the appearance of an ancient Mayan weapon, complete with the Mayan language written on it.
While he learned more and more about woodworking, Lucas had photography as his day job. He worked for 26 years as a staff photographer for Tennessee Tech University. As part of his job, he made frequent trips to the Appalachian Center for Craft to take photos of the artists working there.
“That all soaked in and rubbed off. I learned a huge amount from all the different artists over the years. It’s such an incredible place,” he said.
It was there that he met the now late Joe Looper, husband of Gail Looper, the current manager of the Appalachian Center for Craft.
“I was turning wood, but I wasn’t very good at it at all,” Lucas said. “Joe had studied under some really great woodworkers and was able to push me in that direction.”
These days, Lucas enjoys creating pieces of art that make people chuckle, such as the piece “Biological Clock” that features a clock with the female symbol set into it, as well as a pair of baby legs poking out of the bottom. It took some research to figure out how to make the legs look like that of a baby instead of an adult.
“I went to Walmart and started lifting up the dresses of the baby mannequins and looking at their legs. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I can only imagine what it looked like I was doing.” Lucas laughed. “I’m pretty sure I’m on a surveillance video somewhere.”
He also enjoys playing with perceptions, such as his piece based on the imagery of psychologist Edgar Rubin, who designed a vase that could be seen either as a vase or as the profile of two people facing each other, depending on the viewer’s perspective. Lucas decided to make a wooden goblet that used the same effect.
“I made the goblet and brought it to work, but nobody could see the faces. They weren’t used to looking at the negative space,” Lucas said. “So I put it in a box, and now when you look at it at an angle, it’s very easy to see the faces. The whole thing is about contrast and negative spaces.”
As a finishing touch, he gave the piece “hair” — tiny goblets to cover the top of the piece.
“And then, since I was losing my hair, I put one of the ‘goblet hairs’ down at the bottom of the piece,” Lucas chuckled.
One of his most recent works is a cross with a mirror inside, surrounded by 30 coins. It’s titled “30 Pieces of Silver” and was submitted to the American Association of Woodturners for their contest with the theme of “Turning 30” to celebrate the organization’s 30th anniversary.
“I wracked my brain for two months or more, trying to figure out what I could do that had something to do with ‘30’ that isn’t really hokey,” Lucas said. “One day I got up and thought, ‘Weren’t there 30 pieces of silver involved in Jesus’ crucifixion in the Bible?’ The final idea was, whatever you do in life, you have to look at yourself in the mirror. Getting paid to turn someone in like Judas did is probably a big mistake, and you’ve got to live with yourself afterward.”
Over the years, Lucas has taught countless classes and given demonstrations, written articles for four different magazines and been an active member of the Cumberland Woodturners, Middle Tennessee Woodturners and the American Association of Woodturners.
His work will be on display at the Magical Muse Gallery in Cookeville through April 14. The gallery is located at 37 N. Cedar St. and is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, with Sundays and Mondays available by appointment. For more information, call 931-854-1469.
For more information about Lucas’ work, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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