'I began making wood sculpture in 1962. I knew how to use a chainsaw and it was one of those things – one day you just start.'
For woodworkers in California, the generally accepted official state hero is Sam Maloof. Though Sam was an undeniably talented maker and designer, his forms were extravagant, some might even say a little over the top. There was, however, at the same time a man who lived on a small plot of land in a nature preserve near Inverness, California that was making wooden furniture that was elegant yet almost primitive in form, though in a way that could only be described as supremely natural, as if it had simply grown there in the northern redwood forest.
The man was JB Blunk and he'd initially studied ceramics at UCLA, graduating in 1949. His mentor, Laura Anderson, had a strong Japanese influence which made a deep impression on Blunk. Almost immediately after graduating he was drafted into the Army and sent to Korea. After two years of service he managed to get himself discharged and, already in the general vicinity, decided to go to Japan. While there, he visited a mingei (folk craft) shop, and was rewarded with a chance encounter with the prominent sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Hearing of his common interests, Noguchi introduced JB to the famed potter Rosanjin Kitaoji, who took him on as an apprentice for several months. He stayed on eighteen months after his apprenticeship working for another ceramist before returning to the US. After a few years working as a potter, Blunk acquired his small plot near Inverness in Northern California and began building the home that would eventually come to be regarded as a masterpiece and is now preserved and run by his daughter as a cultural destination with an artist in residence program.
Woodworking, like other crafts, came naturally to Blunk. He arrived up north, and simply started building his home-largely from salvaged material -and working in the area as a carpenter. At one point, he took a job building a roof for the surrealist painter Onslow Ford, which would prove to be a turning point in his career. Wanting to make a gift for Ford after the job, he settled on making a chair. Having thus only worked in wood on a large scale, he now saw the appeal of making small, sculptural pieces, and was soon earning a living designing and making furniture for local clients.
JB Blunk's legacy is alive and well through his daughter, his hand made home, and the work he left behind. He's a beacon of light for designer-woodworkers, especially those, like him, who are intoxicated by the mountains, trees, and emerald sea of California.