I recall an unassuming package I got last year in the run up to the holidays – A large manilla envelope addressed from a good friend of mine from college currently residing in Brooklyn.
I often credit Doug Johnston for introducing me to Tulsa and being a big factor as to why I decided to move here. As classmates we always had similar design sensibilities and this Tulsa native could always be counted on to provide some fresh inspiration whether it was through music, design or showing me around Tulsa.
As I quickly tore into the Manilla envelope, I was blown away, yet not surprised at all. Instead of receiving the requisite holiday card, Doug had sent me a handmade coiled rope pail. This was right on par with Doug. You were just as likely to receive a hand written postcard as you were a phone call or email.
More recently Doug has developed his coil-rope pieces into a burgeoning business venture. He is doing what he loves and deriving happiness from his work.
Doug’s Studio in Brooklyn
The business focuses on the creation of utilitarian pieces that derive their beauty from simplicity of materials and technique. The pieces continue to explore Doug’s interest in a simplified design sensibility using raw materials and devoid of decoration and unnecessary embelishment. Doug is interested in the celebration of the everyday class of people and rejects the notion that raw materials need to be processed in some manner before they have value. A hank of raw cotton rope, simple cotton thread and a zig-zag stitch all work together to realize a complex and mesmerizing final piece to be enjoyed, as well as aid in living – as Doug puts it, “The junction of Art and Design.”
Since his time at Cranbrook, Doug has been studying the idea of linear materials that can be attached to themselves to create their own structure and surface.
In the case of his bags and bowls he simultaneously coils the rope and sews it to itself in a process that allows Doug to sculpt with the sewing machine. Through the expression of connection and material, each piece becomes a diagram for how it is made, making it very clear what is doing what. Color is determined by the shade of thread used to stitch the rope together. Simply changing out the bobbin allows Johnston to adjust the overall color of a piece. Doug is able to determine size, shape and color on the fly resulting in pieces that might be similar in form but aren’t exact replicas. This occurrence of variation, coupled with the imperfections to be expected from a self taught individual on the sewing machine, infuses the pieces with a humanity often found lacking from commercially mass produced objects. The “glitches” in the thread work become patterns.
All images from DougJohnston.net
“I wanted the work to have a language that is attainable by the everyday person. I have a desire to see more people making things and lament the loss of people knowing how to make stuff. I want to make stuff that encourages other people to make stuff. It can be wobbly, quirky and weird, but the joy is found in making something in your world instead of buying it at the store.”
Mark me inspired again.
Doug’s pieces and more information about him and his studio are available on his website.