Friday, September 11, 2009

Skip Johnson: Former Boy Wonder, and All Around Good Guy

art death

C.R. Skip Johnson, a wonderfully unique, sweet, witty and irreverent man, passed away on Wednesday morning. Skip was a world renowned woodworker and a respected and beloved educator. In January, I posted a story by Doug Moe, about the cemetery Skip built on his farm. It consists of styrofoam monuments that mark the passing of things like 2 cent library fines, 5 cent beers, and Skip's neckties. And now I am saying goodbye to him.

art death ritual
Stoughton- C.R. Skip Johnson, former boy wonder, passed away at HospiceCare in Fitchburg at age 81, on Wednesday, September 9, 2009. He was born in Painted Post, NY on June 14, 1928, a son of Murray and Wilma (Reynolds) Johnson. Skip served his country in the Navy, where he met his wife, Joan Lage. Skip and Joan were united in marriage on December 15, 1951. Skip was one of the first three graduates of the Wood Program at RIT, and continued his education at many places, including the UW Madison, where he was a professor of woodworking from 1967 until his retirement. Even after retirement, Skip continued his role as an educator in all aspects of his life. He was a wonderfully creative man with a great sense of humor, and was loved by all who knew him. In addition to being a world renowned master woodworker and a master of hi-jinks, Skip enjoyed horse shoes, gardening, travel, curling, and beer. He is survived by his son, Christofer (Michelle) Johnson; daughter, Kari Jo (Tim) Radl; sister-in-law, JoAnn Johnson; and nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his son, Eric; wife, Joan; and brother, Don. A celebration of Skip’s life will be held on Saturday, September 12, 2009 from 3:00 to 6:00 pm at the Johnson Homestead. Memorials in Skip’s name may be made to Penland School of Crafts, or to public radio station WORT.

art death ceremony
A funny thing happened on the way to Skip's obituary. His family gave me the choice of the three photos shown here to use in the newspaper. It took me about 30 seconds to decide that opening the newspaper to the obituary section and seeing Skip with his tongue sticking out, would bring a smile to his many many friends. Unfortunately, a hour after the deadline, I got a frantic call from the newspaper.
"My editor is having a heart attack over this picture! He says it's sacrilegious and disrespectful, and he will not run it under any circumstances. Could you please send us a different picture?"

So, Skipper, I'm sorry, but we wouldn't want to give a newspaper editor a heart attack would we? Instead, I sent in the handsome picture at the top of this post. I must say, though, that no one ever wants to be seen on the obituary page, no matter how handsome the picture is. I know that Skip didn't want to die, and none of us wanted him to die either. Quite simply, death and dying suck. And while sticking your tongue out at death won't stop it from coming, it can still make you feel a little better.

It is a difficult thing for an undertaker to care for a friend, but it is also a great honor, and a wonderful opportunity to perform one last act of kindness for someone you love.
Skip, I am grateful for your friendship, for your many gifts to this world, and for the opportunity to take you back home one last time.
October 14 update: Here is another article
about Skip by Doug Moe - "A toast to the man who kept a beer bottle in his back


Rupert Callender said...

Thank you for that Patrick. Your friend sounds a lovely man. And clearly the right picture to lead with. Editors...

Anonymous said...

Wow, I really think this is so beautiful. I loved the pictures, wonderful.

Alex Fortney said...

Hi Patrick,
if your editor really wants to understand Skip you can share this link with him. Rest assured that the former boy wonder went out with a helluva bang! Here's a link to what I think may be the best sendoff ever...


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. What a great thing. You're right. Skip really didn't want to die. His love for life as well as his amazingly huge group of very caring friends made it possible for him to live way past his 12.23.07 deadline.
I'm so glad that we get to share the real Skip Johnson with the world, because you're right, he loved to stick his tongue out at the reeper. ~ Kari

Anonymous said...

I agree, your first photo choice was the right choice...that's the Skip I remember. He was one of a kind, and he enriched many lives, simply by being himself. It's a rare day in the shop that he doesn't cross my mind. - Dennis Theisen

Anonymous said...

Penland Student
Skip was a great guy! I had the good fortune to spend two weeks with him at Penland back in 1980 and will never forget him. Gotta love the originality in the end with the final parting "shot" along with the pictures. Skip taught many about much including how to live and would have been proud no doubt!

Sam Caldwell said...

And he left behind many many friends who were also his students.
Cheers Skip!
Sam Caldwell

PopcornPotterySue said...

The world has lost a lovely soul.

Ray met Skip at Penland back in '66 and when we arrived in Madison for grad school in '68 we stayed with the Johnsons until our rental house was vacant. I'll never forget their son Eric coming down the stairs to tell us that Russia had just invaded Hungary.

Though I'm a potter now, I learned the basics of woodworking from Skip. Everytime I pick up a Jorgenson clamp, I think of him.

He and Joan stopped by for a short visit 10 or so years ago and it was like no time had passed. We will cherish our memories and the pieces of his that we have.
Does anyone know how Joan is and who is caring for her? Our deepest sympathy to Chris and Carrie.

Ray & Sue Allen, Murfreesboro, TN

Patrick McNally said...

Thanks Sue,
Skip's wife Joan passed away about a year before Skip did.

Michael Cohen said...

I am sorry to say that we are all starting to pass. I met Skip and Joan more than 50 years ago. Haystack. Such a great wood artist and both of them made me laugh.(especially Joan, with her wonderful smile)
Michael Cohen

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