Inside the Studio: John Whitman

by C. Birch

Have you ever looked at a knot in a tree trunk or a curve of a branch and img_9196-2thought it looks just like a person? John Whitman, an Akron area artist living near Highland Square, does just that but goes a number of steps further. He works to bring out that natural movement of wood and show organic forms to those of us who may not see those imaginative characteristics. Using found wood such as black walnut and live oak, Whitman uses his studies of anatomy to form torsos reminiscent of the marble torsos we are used to seeing in museums.

Whitman’s home studio is adjacent to a ravine, giving a natural, rural setting to an otherwise urban location. Deer and other animals explore this ravine and scramble up to his back yard filled with flowers and veggies. This natural setting is appropriate for an artist whose work and influences are oriented towards the observation and exploration of nature.

“I am influenced by the organic more than the idea of what an object … is expected to be,” he said. “Is this a table or just something to set things on?”

With this free mindset, he explores his found pieces of wood to see what they should become. Each piece has a story and a history that is connected to what he ends up creating.

img_9189-2Walking into the Whitman’s home, it is apparent that art is a living, breathing thing. There are handmade items on the walls, floors and surfaces. Whitman showed me smoothed wooden curvaceous stems with flat floral wooden tops, about 2.5 feet tall. They intertwine just so, holding each other upright, and serve as a perfect side table as well as a sculptural piece.

A woman’s torso, chunky and gorgeous, sits in the corner of a room with golden inlay filling the crevices of the wood. In his workshop, the organic, smooth curves of a lithe female torso are in process on a pedestal near by. She has turquoise stone beginning to fill a crack down her shoulder and chest. Whitman’s skill with his tools and materials is evident in each piece of wood that falls to his creative spirit.

Whitman began creating as early as first grade, influenced by his father’s woodworking and his older brother’s creativity. He loves to demonstrate, often giving woodworking demonstrations at events and art shows. He gets to show process often since he works as an art teacher at a local Akron school.

You may recognize some of Whitman’s work from the Akron Art Prize last year. While you will continue to see his incredible organic sculptures show up around Akron and beyond, you will likely find Whitman at the Diamond Deli downtown or caring for his new baby with his wife. You can find him and his contact information on