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Multimedia Artist John Montoya

Author: Shawndrea Corbin
Issue: January, 2014, Page 40
Photos by Garrett Cook



Multi-media artist John Montoya uses classic materials from the Southwest to create pieces with regional flair

Tiny flecks of turquoise speckle the gravel leading up to John Montoya’s studio in north Phoenix. The glittering chips are pieces of the many raw materials that the craftsman hauls into his work space to fashion fine furniture with a rugged Southwest feel.

Born in Durango, Colorado, Montoya settled in Santa Barbara in 1960 following four years in the U.S. Air Force. In California, he found work as a manufacturing engineer, and in his spare time, he began to frequent the nearby “Sundays at the Beach” arts-and-crafts show. Inspired to start crafting and selling his own wares, the fledgling artist found himself manufacturing computer tape heads by day and designing home accessories by night.

“You could make pretty much whatever you wanted at the time, and it would sell,” the artist recalls. “I knew I would eventually do this full time because I got into it so much. I just loved it.”

Montoya was a regular at the weekend art show for 20 years. His artistic focus evolved from Tiffany-style lamps and clocks, to bronze Native American-themed sculptures, to wood kaleidoscopes and Southwest folk art of the time (think pastels and the iconic howling coyote). Each of these creative ventures led to his exploration and mastery of rustic Southwestern-style furniture.

These Contemporary Shaman sculptures are made from leopard (left) and bubinga (right) woods.
In 1994, Montoya and his wife, Betsy, moved to Arizona, where he now makes a variety of pieces in his studio. The 75-year-“young” craftsman cuts, paints, tiles, sandblasts, inlays, fills, carves and upholsters—making him a veritable one-man show.

“Many of my materials come from other artists. They like my stuff, and I like theirs, so we barter and trade,” Montoya explains. He buys wood with a lot of knots and cracks that he fills with semi-precious stones he gets through trade. “Turquoise and other stones are sort of my calling card,” he states.

When the artist is not creating new works, he continues to participate in various art shows with his wife, who is a painter. The two also collaborate on projects. “There’s always something new to do ... a new stone to try, different shapes or woods. It’s never-ending,” says Montoya.

“My customers become my friends; some are even my best friends. They’ll want to buy one piece and end up getting two. And that’s a huge compliment to me,” he adds. “I can’t imagine not doing this. I joke that I am going to die in my shop. This is just something that I have to do.”

Photos - from left: This hickory-wood bison buffet was painted by Montoya’s wife, Betsy. The doors feature copper and saguaro rib detailing. • This fetish bear features concho eyes and inlaid turquoise accents.

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