Former Californian John Makowski is a transformational artist. Art-lovers who visit his home studio in Fearrington village the first two weekends in December at the 25th Chatham studio Tour will experience his transformation of everyday objects and pieces of discards into magical creatures. “My pallet is stuff that I find at the PTA thrift shop, garage sales, antique shops and goodies that folks just drop off,” Makowski quips. “I don’t see right off what – or who – the elements will transform themselves into, but they always become works with whimsy and wonder.” I know that they are right when people laugh at them”
Makowski’s life has undergone a series of transformations. In junior high school, Makowski’s teacher had him make a self-portrait in clay. “I put my hands in clay, and fell in love!” he grins. In high school, he studied the pottery wheel, drawing and painting. John wanted to go to art school, but his dad insisted that he go to college and study business. He entered junior college, and in addition to business classes, snuck in one figurative life drawing course. In 1966, he enlisted in the Navy, just prior to being drafted.
John was an electrician’s mate, a skill that he employs to this day. “I got to see Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Japan and all up and down the US west coast,” he reflects. At every port, he got out his sketch pad and colored pencils to document what he had experienced.
Using this electrical experience, he did odd jobs, after leaving the Navy, and later found a job in a pottery production facility. He rose to be kiln master and gained expertise in mold making and glaze formulation. Living in a San Francisco loft called Project Artaud (pronounce Art O), the 27 year old Makoski sold pottery on the streets at Ghirardelli Square.
Seeking a different life style, John bought a little house in Sonoma County, with berry bushes and apple and plum trees. Using the GI Bill to go back to school, he took “nothing but art classes”. It took him only a couple of years to earn AA and BFA degrees. To earn money, he did lawn mowing and gardening jobs for “grandmas”. “They were my teachers,” he stresses. “I learned all about plants, and what the earth is made of.” This knowledge was the basis of a 20 year career as an award-winning landscape designer. “Sculpting with gardens was my art for a long time,” he recalls.
In 1996, he was able to retire to a 60 acre ranch, growing Sirah and Cabernet grapes. In his 500 square foot shop, he finally built his ceramics studio. He asked, “How can I distinguish myself as an artist?” He devised an “out of the box” approach to glazing – using dry glazes on wet clay.
He continued his ceramic work when he moved in 2006 to Fearrington. “It became clear to me after a while that folks here did not have much interest in purchasing ceramic art,” he remembers. Then, five years ago he transformed himself once again. “I found an old sewing machine, and it occurred to me that if I added a trombone to it, it would resemble a train,” he remembers. It was the beginning of his “Sew-l Train series and the start of his new artistic journey. Now, using simple tools and whatever parts he can get his hands on he creates unique sculptural “art works”.
Makowski’s sculptures sell from $150 to $500. He has displayed his works at The Joyful Jewel, area galleries and an exciting new venture – Silver Bird Gallery in Ashville (silverbirdart.com). The 25th Chatham Studio Tour is his first. Visitors will surely enjoy seeing John let the little boy in him “come out and play”.