How John Furniss Turned The Blind Woodsman

In a TikTok video from August, woodworker John Furniss exhibits off an in-progress piece in his store. It’s an enormous, attractive bowl, about 11 inches large, into which he’s layered alternating items of yellowheart and black walnut wooden. As his spouse, Anni, movies, he turns the bowl on a lathe, carving intricate ridges into the aspect. A number of days later, he’ll share the completed product, oiled up and virtually glowing within the solar, with its attractive grains on show. 

Possibly none of this by itself sounds notably exceptional to you—TikTok is filled with creators and artists who share the method that goes into making their work, and far of it’s as beautiful as this. However John’s picket creations are notable for an additional purpose: The Washington state-based craftsman is blind. 

How did ‘The Blind Woodsman’ go blind?

The journey that led John to develop into The Blind Woodsman, as he’s recognized at this time, was lengthy, tough and tragic. He grew up in a small city in Colorado “and I felt like I by no means actually slot in, truthfully,” he says. “I all the time type of felt like I used to be on the fringes and probably not understood. I had lots of nervousness, and I began turning into very depressed fairly early.” 

He estimates he was as younger as 10 or 11 when the despair set in, and it was a secret he hid from everybody in his life. On April 10, 1998, all of it got here to a head: “I didn’t need to do it anymore; I didn’t need to stay anymore,” he says. “And so I tried suicide by capturing myself.”

The try didn’t take John’s life, but it surely did take his sight and sense of odor. And although he considers himself extremely fortunate, it additionally meant issues could be very completely different for him. “I needed to begin a brand new life, nearly. I needed to learn to be blind,” he says. 

Extremely, it turned out that wasn’t a horrible problem. One month after leaving the hospital, John was in a position to change the rear wheel-bearings in his previous automobile with none assist. “I grew up serving to my dad work on automobiles and stuff, and so I remembered it,” he says merely. “I might simply see it proper in entrance of me in my thoughts.” Being with out sight has its limitations, after all, however he says, “I tailored to it so effectively and so rapidly that I genuinely really feel like I’m imagined to be blind.” 

Honing his ardour—and his craft

Which isn’t to say issues have been “straightforward” for him. For one, the query of labor was an ongoing problem.

“For blind individuals, most employment is in computer systems, in a method or one other. And I don’t actually do computer systems,” he explains. “I’m actually good with my palms; I’m a terrific mechanic, I construct issues, sort things… and in order that was an enormous block in entrance of me as a result of all of the issues that I’m good at are type of harmful.”

It wasn’t till 2005, when he was doing a vocational rehab program for the blind in Salt Lake Metropolis, that John found nice woodworking might be an possibility. He determined to take the woodworking class they provided, although “truthfully, I assumed that was bonkers,” he laughs. 

Finally, he’d study there’s a reasonably large group of blind woodworkers—although it will nonetheless be a while till Furniss joined their ranks. Life took him subsequent to the Emil Fries Faculty of Piano Know-how for the Blind in Vancouver, Washington. And although piano tuning wouldn’t become his ardour, he did discover one thing there he was enthusiastic about. Somebody, truly. It’s the place he met Anni, who was on the faculty volunteering for a fundraiser by which native artists painted pianos. 

“She was in the identical workroom that I used to be, repairing a special piano, and I walked into the room, and identical to an iron bar to a magnet, hand within the moist paint,” John chuckles. 

It was Anni who, again in 2016, purchased John the lathe that will develop into the instrument of his life’s work. It was additionally Anni who began posting John’s work on social media—first on Instagram—and nearly instantly, the couple began listening to from individuals who have been impressed by John’s story and who needed to purchase his creations.

The Blind Woodsman retailer: Furniss Studios

Immediately, the couple work collectively to run The Blind Woodsman web site and social media accounts. “We make group,” Anni says. “I run the enterprise, and I do my very own artwork, after which John does his artwork.” For a while, they bought his creations at native festivals and festivals. Their TikTok account—which has amassed greater than 1.9 million followers—modified every thing.

​​“It modified our lives,” John says. “For one factor, even when we have been doing the artwork festivals and vacation gross sales and stuff like that, it was a small, native buyer base. And now, we promote nationally. Every bit goes to a special state, as a rule.”

(You must be quick if you wish to get an unique Furniss, although. Every drop that hits the web site sells out nearly immediately.)

Lately, watching the movies Anni posts on-line, you’d hardly assume John’s lack of sight was ever a barrier for him. After I comment that he’s extra coordinated and assured within the woodshop than I’d be, he and Anni each chortle. “Me too,” Anni says.

“Folks will typically say, ‘Oh, I’m so unhappy that he can’t see his paintings,’ and John all the time likes to say, ‘Effectively, I see it earlier than you do,’” she continues.

“I’ve a particularly vivid visible creativeness,” John explains. “I prefer to say that I’ve a pc design program in my thoughts. After I make a challenge, I can see it proper in entrance of me. I put the layers collectively; I modify the colours, the design, no matter I need till I’ve my blueprint, so to talk. And so I see a completed piece earlier than the wooden even will get to the noticed.”

Furniss’ story is for everybody

And John’s woodworking is much from the one factor the couple shares by way of TikTok. The account has additionally given them a platform to speak about blindness, psychological well being and the challenges John’s confronted all through his life, that are extra common than one would possibly assume. He and Anni have discovered that their message of acceptance and honesty round psychological well being, despair and nervousness has resonated with viewers in all places. 

“I don’t thoughts speaking about it as a result of there’s a stigma round it that’s unexplainable however is so damaging,” John says. “It must be talked about; it must be introduced out within the open, as a result of psychological well being is well being—no completely different than your coronary heart or your lungs.”

The Blind Woodsman ebook is coming

In March 2024, John will broaden upon his story, his struggles and keenness for woodworking in a brand new ebook, The Blind Woodsman: One Man’s Journey to Discover His Function on the Different Aspect of Darkness. And whereas he advocates for honesty about psychological well being, the method of writing the ebook—which he dictated to and co-wrote with Anni—was tougher than he imagined entering into.

“It was extra intense than I assumed it will be, truthfully,” John says. “I needed to very intently relive some fairly laborious instances in my life.”

Provides Anni: “There have been tales I discovered that John had by no means informed earlier than. He was like, ‘That is the one time I’m gonna be telling the story, on this ebook… it’s been a progress expertise for each of us.”

As difficult because it was, John has little question it was the appropriate factor to do. He is aware of it’d sound laborious to imagine, however his blindness has given him a way of goal he couldn’t have imagined earlier than. It helped him uncover his ardour. It led him to Anni. It gave him the next on TikTok to share his work, sure, but additionally a spot to unfold positivity and lightweight, to share hope and knowledge about incapacity and bravado with hundreds of thousands of strangers world wide. And now he has the chance to pay it ahead to different blind people.

Grateful for all times’s challenges

On the afternoon we spoke, John was getting ready to assist educate the primary day of a brand new course on nice woodworking on the Washington State Faculty for the Blind. 

“The eventual purpose of this system is to deliver individuals from all throughout the nation from blind colleges which have totally outfitted wooden retailers however no lecturers, and we’re going to coach lecturers to go and be in these wooden retailers everywhere in the nation,” he says. He hopes he can deliver the enjoyment of woodworking to others who would possibly discover it as significant and life-changing as he did.

“It gave me one thing that I’m naturally good at, that’s productive ultimately,” he says. “I by no means thought that I’d not need to stay on social safety. I by no means thought that I’d be capable to discover some type of work that I might do effectively, and it will be gainful.”

Photograph courtesy of John and Anni Furniss and Fox Chapel Publishing.

Cassel is a Minneapolis-based author and editor, a co-owner of Racket MN, and a VHS collector.

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