John Morrison, a former educator, makes intricate wood carvings of fish. photo by Bill Bartlett
John Morrison, a former educator, makes intricate wood carvings of fish. photo by Bill Bartlett
The art scene in Sisters is a cathedral-size tapestry with increasing recognition, as well as a tourism draw. Visitors are treated to a galleria of wearable art, metal art, fabric art and, of course, paintings and sculpture. Much, if not most, of art in Sisters is inspired by the surroundings of nature from our iconic mountains to glazed meadows, towering trees to rivers and streams. Wildlife imagery is rich in the Sisters art tradition.

Enter John Morrison, a retired vice principal of Silverton High School. He and his wife, Barbara, settled recently in Sisters, partly to be closer to family and, in part, because of the vibrant and eclectic art community. Morrison, 74, started wood carving about 30 years ago but it is only in the last eight that his work turned more serious. His creations include ducks, but it is fish that are his passion.

He has created some five-dozen lifelike, full-scale fish in varying sizes up to a three-foot Chinook. More commonly his works are trout, which are more colorful and intricate. He starts with blocks of basswood from Wisconsin. Growth rings tend to be subtle, and color is mostly uniform throughout the face grain of the wood. Knots and other defects are uncommon. The grain is straight with a fine, even texture and moderate natural luster, giving Morrison the perfect “canvas” for his creations.

Using his own patterns, he begins the time-consuming art of shaping and sculpting the wood, even the delicate fins, followed by air brushing. All the spots are hand-painted. His steady hand and keen eye apply the paint spray in delicate layers rhythmically blending the colors, resulting in a vivid finish that a passerby might think was a live specimen fresh from the Metolius.

From his workshop, he makes teeth for each fish, a tedious task that enhances the lifelike look of the finished piece. The realistic glass eyes are from a taxidermist in Lebanon, Oregon. Scaled species like salmon are especially daunting with each scale painstakingly etched.

Morrison was persuaded to enter the well-regarded Columbia Flyway Wildlife Show, his first showing. To his surprise he took Best of Show, a first, a second, and a third in the intermediate category.

John, an unassuming artist with roots in farming, is now being urged to make his pieces available to local galleries.