Holz – Craftsman Johann Fischer

Johann Fischer from Undorf creates the most diverse works of art from the multifaceted material wood

Johann Fischer is a trained church painter, a craftsman who renovates and artistically restores churches. When he retired, however, he by no means put his work aside. Even today, he still turns, grinds and polishes small and large works of art made of wood. And the craftsman jack-of-all-trades tells us just how versatile the material is.

How long have you been working with wood on an artistic level?

I started my apprenticeship when I was 14, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

What training have you received?

I’m a trained church painter. That’s an incredibly versatile profession. You do stucco work, woodwork, restorations, inlays (= decorative technique with different woods – editor’s note) and also altar restorations. Not all of this can be done by just one person. That’s why I specialized in wood, stucco, and whitewashing. I continue this now and do a lot on the lathe with different woods.

How do you source the wood?

It varies. I buy some from the forester in the area, or when acquaintances cut down a tree that is interesting, then I also like to buy some. Or from my own garden. When I was still working, I was always allowed to take parts of old roof trusses. Some of the beams are already several hundred years old.

How did you think of this kind of work?

I was responsible for a lot of carpentry work in the company where I worked. I had to do some carving and some woodturning. About 35 years ago I bought a lathe and then taught myself a lot. I started with small candlesticks and bowls, and at some point I moved on to larger things. That’s how it developed over the years.

„My favourite thing is not always doing the same thing!“

What drives your fascination towards wood as a material?

The material is extraordinarily versatile. What I would like to delve into are inlays. Depending on how the wood comes out of the forest, it takes on different colours. Colours range from red and yellow to green and blue. Storage is also important. If it’s been in the moisture for a little too long, black veins will form, but even that I find appealing for some things.

Do you have a favourite processing step?

My favorite thing is not always doing the same thing (laughs). I especially like the variety. One day I stucco, then turn, then sand. Whatever suits me at the moment. I get up in the morning, look out of the window and then think about what I’m going to do. In the winter, when the wood has to be processed, I am busy with woodturning. In the summer, it’s mainly sanding. Of course, that’s better outdoors than indoors.

What challenges you during the production, which step is the most delicate?

It’s particularly tricky to turn deep bowls with bark because you must be careful so that your fingers don’t get caught. I don’t grind such things in the lathe anymore. It happened to me this winter that a plate jumped in the lathe and a piece of it flew against my arm. Working on the machines is not without danger.

Who comes to you, what kind of people are they who want a unique piece from you?

I sell the things to the people who come to my home and at the hobby artists‘ market in Adlersberg (http://www.adlersberg.com). I often hear that the pieces are new gift ideas for them, unusual things. Internet-wise, I am not interested. Word of mouth, so to speak. People hearing from people they know. Some are looking for gifts, but many just see the stuff and feel it speaks to them and then take that as a gift.

The wood determines what I make of it.

What is the price range of the pieces?

Around 10 to 70 euros. It depends on the size of the piece. The material costs are the most important. Especially the abrasive. A piece like this is not sanded once, but five times. And that, of course, consumes material.

Is it possible to get a commissioned piece? That is almost impossible. You’d have to bring the wood yourself, and that’s only possible in December or January. The wood determines what I make out of it and what the finished piece will look like. The shape of the bowl, for example, is determined by the tree. Depending on the grain, knotholes, or bark, I process the wood differently.

How large are your works? I can work bowls up to about 40 centimeters in diameter on the lathe. For larger things, I built myself a more massive machine. I actually make everything from twenty-centimeter figures to seventy-centimeter bowls.

Have you already tried your hand at other materials? I haven’t tried combinations yet. I mainly make things out of wood. And from my profession I also like to work with stucco on my house.

How can people support your work? I don’t need any special support. I make a living with my pension, and I do this just as a hobby. I do it for the fun of it (laughs).

How can people contact you? I can only be reached by phone (0 94 04) 33 34. Otherwise not. And at the artisan market you can come up to me.

Do you have a tip for anyone who wants to get creative with wood themselves? The wood should be cut between the end of October and the end of January, and about ten to twelve weeks after cutting it should be processed. And it’s still important to let it dry slowly, without direct sun or drafts. Otherwise, it will crack. For woodturning, short-fibered woods are best suited, for example, plum or pear. Especially the plum is very versatile. For woodturning it is good when the wood is hard. The best wood for carving is linder or poplar, or oak. Beech, for example, is not suitable at all.

Does your work have more of an artistic or a handicraft character for you? It is definitely a combination. It’s just craftsmanship. But I don’t want to call myself an artist. That’s too high for me.

Does craftsmanship run in your family? My father and grandfather were carpenters. That’s how I came to know about it, and that’s how I got into it.

What don’t you like about your work? Nothing, really. I already started thirty years ago to provide for my retirement with wood so that I wouldn’t run out of work. I just do it for fun.

Mr. Fischer, thank you very much for your time and the interview!

Feel free to stop by his booth at the next artisan market. You can find the dates at: http://www.adlersberg.com

Author: Gabriel Probst, OTH Regensburg