John W. Cobb


I was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina.  I attended North Carolina State University where I studied engineering and mathematics.  I graduated from Arizona State University in 1964 with a degree in mathematics and physics. I came to Colorado Springs as a second lieutenant in October 1964 and I was among the first to be based at the NORAD complex inside Cheyenne Mountain.  That was quite an experience. After leaving the military in 1968, I settled in Denver and I have lived along the front range of Colorado until recently.  I now live near the city of Santa Fe.  Santa Fe is in northern New Mexico at an elevation of 7,000 feet. I enjoy the natural beauty of the area as well as the warm weather and abundant wildlife. 


I am a professionally trained woodcarver.  I became interested in woodcarving about 1968.  At that time, I did some furniture making and I wanted to be able to carve the knee and feet of period pieces.  I found a professional woodcarver, Al Aspenwall, who taught evening classes.  He and I became friends and the two of us taught evening classes under his leadership for about 7 years.  He used to admonish me by saying “Johnnie, ya got no artistic soul!”  I responded by saying “Al, mathematicians have no soul, just probabilities”.  And so it went, all in good humor.  He was right: I had no artistic soul.  But I discovered that through reading, asking questions and a lot of hard work and practice that I was able to become ‘pretty good’.  Today, I have a very good sense of proportion and form, but it is not due to any natural ‘talent’ – just hard work and experience.


I have turned wood since I was 12 years old when my father gave me what would be described today as a mini-lathe.  I found an old washing machine motor and attached it to the lathe.  I mounted the lathe on an old card table and worked on it in the back yard in good weather.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and I made several lamps and a footstool.  I still have these items in my home today, even though they are design horrors by current standards.  They have great sentimental value.


When I left the military in 1968 I got a good job and bought a home of my own.  I started outfitting a woodworking shop and I purchased a really poor quality lathe plus quite a few woodcarving tools.  I sold the poor quality lathe in 1980 and replaced it with a Myford spindle lathe.  It was like getting off a mule and climbing into a sports car.  I had that Myford lathe until quite recently when I gave it to a friend. These days I have two Vicmarc lathes: a VL100 mini and a VL300 short-bed. I love both of them.  

In the mid 1980s I became aware of the work of Australian woodturner Richard Raffan.  When I discovered that he was teaching in Provo, Utah I decided to take a one-week class.  This was about 1986.  Richard and I became good friends and we have maintained that friendship over the intervening years.  You can still see his influence in my boxes and bowls today.  In that first class there were several people that have gone on to become well known turners.  That group included Gene Doren of Alaska and Dick Sing of Illinois.


When I met Richard Raffan, I was a good competent spindle turner but I had made neither a turned box nor a good bowl.  He taught me to make these items quickly and with good form.  I took two or three classes from Richard in Provo in consecutive years.  Dale Nish said that I am a slow learner.  Not so – I just enjoyed it very much.


Since my initial formal training with Richard Raffan, I have learned a great deal about woodturning from many others.  This group includes Ray Key of England, Kip Christensen of Utah, Bob Krause of California, and Soren Berger of New Zealand.  And in 1995 I spent a week in England studying with Melvyn Firmager learning his technique for making hollow vessels. I thank them all for being willing to share.


My current direction is to combine my woodcarving skills with my woodturning skills.  I am drawn to the pottery of the Pueblo Indians who live along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico.  I am especially fond of the black-on-black pottery of Santa Clara and San Ildefonso.  I am also quite fond of the pottery and designs of the ancient Mimbres people who lived in southwestern New Mexico along the Mimbres river which is not far from Silver City. I am now incorporating design elements seen on the pottery of both peoples into my own designs for carved, burned and painted turnings.


Santa Fe, NM

October, 2014