Brian Johnston has spent the last 40 years as a fine woodworker in New York and in the Hudson Valley. His work has appeared in Interiors and Architectural Digest. Recently, he has turned his love and understanding of wood from furniture to sculpture. His respect for the traditions of craftsmanship, drawn from the works of George Nakashima and James Krenov, now reflect a different reference, the forest itself. He was born in Ireland and raised with the primal belief that there is a spirituality to the forest, and that its otherworld is inhabited by the unseen. He says, “Anyone who has stood in the deep woods and listened, understands that more is going on than mere growth. There’s a sensibility and an otherworldly intelligence to that intense, woodland quiet.” The ancient Druids worshiped in sacred oak groves. Humans were molded by the gods from trees. It is the integration of these two beliefs that inform his sculpture.
The collection, entitled ‘The Hidden Life of Trees,’ takes its title from the book by Peter Wohlleben. Through craftsmanship and a sense of mystic conviction, these figurative pieces suggest the ancient kinship of forest and humans. Johnston has realized in these totems the visual stimulus to help us to tap into that deep, ancestral past and to rethink our relationship with trees of all species and, in extension, the forest and the greater environment beyond.
The group called ‘The Dancers’ is a playful imagining of tree limbs in movement. “Walking through the woods,” he says, “when there is a wind, is to experience nature’s ballet. The trees dance with one another, swaying and dipping as if suddenly freed from their timbered rigidity.” Johnston has taken branches and instilled in them, through whimsical carving and composition, a magical quality that suggests more than simple movement. There is a joy to the pieces, and we cannot help but smile, and sway along with them.