After working over 35 years in Yakima as an internal medicine pulmonologist and critical care specialist, Dr. John Barany decided it was time to retire. His last day in the hospital portion of his practice was Jan. 1, 2004. He remembers coming home and being unsure of what was next. What would he do with his free time ? He was used to working 12 out of every 14 days. And this decision would affect his wife as well.
John remembered his first day of pulmonary medicine training at the University of New York, in Buffalo. He decided to go for coffee at the Student Union and happened by a ceramic studio, where he met a young woman making pots on a wheel. She obviously made a very great impression because this lovely lady, named Carol, eventually became Mrs. Carol Barany.
John and Carol ultimately moved to Yakima and purchased a beautiful hilltop home with an expansive yard overlooking Franklin Park. While John took care of patients, Carol took care of the family.
In the meantime, John found out that Minnie and Mario Gasperetti were selling a wood lathe that essentially had never been used. John was interested in working with wood and knew the lathe might come in handy, so he decided to buy it. He’d always liked carpentry, even though he had a saw and hammer that he rarely used. Fortunately, his good friend Dr. Dieter Brandt stepped in and showed him the basics.
But why did he turn to this specific way to start the next phase of his life? John still vividly remembers that first day, “I put 10 things down on a piece of paper that I wanted to try or do. After a few days, I’d learned that I wanted to ‘turn’ wood.”
It took several years before he felt truly confident, though.
“The first year I entered a show at the Larson Gallery and both of my pieces were turned down,” he said.
Fortunately, this initial attempt to display his work led him to meet two established wood turners, who invited him to join their club, the Mid-Columbia Wood Turners of the Tri-Cities.
By attending their meetings, John discovered that if he asked a member a technical question, they were invariably eager to share their knowledge. Their good advice definitely helped.
Finally, John took a second leap of faith and entered some pieces in a Larson Gallery show again. This time, he was accepted.
Eventually, he became a regular participant in exhibits all around Central Washington. The hope was that once attendees saw his efforts, they would want to purchase a piece for their home or office. The plan worked — in fact, this past summer he was invited to be part of the “The Artist Studio Tour,” which showcases the working sites of half a dozen artists.
John said he only began to think of himself as a “true artist” when his work began to sell.
“If you can’t sell it, it isn’t good enough,” he said, adding, “If the buyer really likes it, it’s like cream on the cocoa!”
For the longest time, John went to his basement to work on his wood creations. As he became more adept at his art and started turning out beautiful, finished wood bowls and smaller decorative items, he decided he needed a larger space with more light.
That’s when John and Carol got in touch with Kline Construction and hired them to create a home gallery in the back corner of their house, enabling John to display a variety of his finished works.
Kline also built a two-story workshop attached to their garage, where John spends most of his time creating a wide variety of decorative items. Over the years he’s turned wood into plates, platters, boxes, vases, bowls and even whimsical, German-style smokers that are perfect to include in Christmas décor. He even creates “wedding bowls,” because he can make them unique to the couples who receive them.
“If someone wants a salad bowl, I make the utensils the same as the bowl,” he said. He’s also created bowls featuring a hop pattern along with hop leaves on the utensils to match the design of the couples’ wedding bands!
John admits he’d never dreamed this hobby could actually become a real business. Even after turning for a couple of years, it took a long time before he started regularly selling his work. Wood turners also have to buy many tools, both big and small, and become proficient in using them to be successful wood artists. With a twinkle in his eye, John explained that there is no such thing as a wood turner who’s bought his last tool.
John now sells his pieces all over Central Washington and throughout the Northwest. In fact, he said, “For the last two years since COVID, I sell new work on Facebook all over the country.”
John also loves to create pieces that are not only functional, but tell a tale. As John puts it, “The first thing I want to know is … how did this start? I’m asking, what story does it tell?”
So what does the future hold for this physician turned artist? Two things excited him as he answered that question.
First, he’d like to become better at “deep hollowing,” which refers to vessels, such as vases, that have very deep interiors. Think two to three feet or more. It’s a special skill and John is working hard to become excellent in this area.
Second, he hopes to create significantly larger pieces in the future. He has the skill and the equipment to do some amazing work, but only time will tell.