Artist J. Christopher White
creates his pieces out of a medium that is centuries old. His wood
sculptures are formed from long-dead juniper trees found only in the Palo
Duro and Tule Canyons of the Texas Panhandle. There, on ranchland near
Amarillo, grows the most dense and strongest juniper in the world.
In his studio in El Paso's upper
valley, J. Christopher slowly hand-carves the wood, turning the dry,
misshapen chunk into a softly flowing form that incorporates the natural
shading of the juniper. Then each piece is sanded using several grades of
sandpaper and hand-polished to a high gloss.
His themes are a reflection of
his love and respect for nature: a kingfish flowing gracefully from a
rushing wave, a falcon on the wing, and Indian busts with sharply defined
facial structures. Some of these can be seen in a Paul Kayser Center atrium
exhibit beginning mid-May.
J. Christopher's own face
features a bearded chin and broad, white smile. His high cheekbones are a
product of his Indian heritage and his blue eyes come from his Irish
background. His ruddy complexion is distinguished by barely visible lines
stretching outward from the corner of his eyes, the probable result of
accumulated time spent in the wilderness.
J. Christopher's first pieces
were on the order of "mini-sculptures" formed meticulously from the chalk
from the chalkboard at his elementary school. He created intricate designs
out of the long, thin pieces of chalk. "I learned detail work early," he
says with a smile.
After working toward a degree in
wildlife biology from Texas Tech University he dreamt of working as a fire
ranger. "I thought I could spend my days up in a fire tower by myself
carving wood," he explains. Instead, J. Christopher worked as a carpenter
before deciding to return to school to study art. After attending art school
in Mexico, he began to work fulltime as an artist in 1978. J. Christopher,
however, admits to years as a starving artist. Even then, he says "I always
did my best, never compromising my quality." He considers the many hours of
underpaid work as an investment in time, for now he has a reputation based
on quality and a collection of pieces that he is proud of. The artist's
pieces have been sold to individuals and private collectors throughout the
country and are on display in Preusser Gallery in Taos and Albuquerque, New
Mexico; New Master's Gallery in Carmel, California, and Brielle Galleries in
He also has a book currently in
the printing phase called "Expressions in Wood" that includes full-color
photographs of his sculptures along with poetry composed by the artist to
enhance the meaning of each piece. He says he feels privileged to have his
art and his poetry to express his Christian beliefs.
"I feel really blessed to have a
means of expressing something important," the artist says. Many of his
pieces have religious themes and emerge from inner conviction.
When J. Christopher gets an idea
for a sculpture, he searches for a piece of wood that lends itself to that
design. "Juniper grows flat and then it twists," he says. "This helps give
my sculptures the feeling of movement."
On his wood-searching
expeditions, J. Christopher and a buddy or two must carry the piece of wood
up the canyon. Some of the pieces weigh up to 165 pounds. So the artist
occasionally begins to carve the wood where he finds it still in the ground.
"I remove 90 percent of the wood when I carve. That can make it a lot easier
to haul back. And when it's in the ground, it is held there tightly while I
work," he adds.
J. Christopher is married to
Sharlane White, a senior analyst in the Operations Project Support section.