How do any two people find their way to each other? Sometimes it is by design – wistful yearnings on a dating app-, by conspiratorial plottings sof family or friends, an unintentional bump in a crowd, or – as in this case – it could be just serendipity. And though the Habitat Store cannot claim to be the catalyst of this good fate, we have reaped the benefits of their union in wonderful, somewhat unexpected ways.
Let’s get to their story, shall we?
Girl finds art
Before Anni Furniss found love, she found art. It was through art that she was able to defeat symptoms of teenage depression. She had no experience with painting until she was given her great grandfather’s oil paints and paint box. Might as well give it a go, Anni thought, then she lifted the lid, unscrewed the ochre cap and discovered colorful, exuberant, healing self expression. Art as therapy.
Though painting is Anni’s passion, she was a professional photographer for 10 years and she also worked in a public library. In 2014, she accepted a position at Evergreen Habitat for Humanity – which is housed within the Habitat Store in Vancouver. Even before she began working at Habitat, Anni shopped the Store hunting ‘raw’ or second-hand materials for her own designs. Old paintings, unusual pieces of wood, wood plank flooring and random cabinet doors – some salvaged from the Habitat Store’s free pile – became palette’s for Anni’s brushes. (Perhaps we should have called this part of our story ‘Girl finds art…affordable.’)
Boy finds art
People are often surprised that a blind person could be such an accomplished woodworker. But when you hear John talk about his lifelong affinity for tinkering and mechanics…well, that surprise morphs along the spectrum and lands next to awe. Here’s John’s story.
John Furniss has been blind since the age of 16. Depression and a sense of hopelessness took him down the destructive path of drugs and despair.
Living with his parents in Salt Lake City, John was finding it virtually impossible to get a job.
“Mainly jobs for the blind are computer oriented. I’m computer illiterate,” he said. “I repair engines, I build stuff, but you aren’t going to find somebody very often that will hire a blind guy to do that kind of stuff.”
John turned his focus away from drugs and toward art when he discovered the vocational school he was attending not only offered classes in advanced Braille, cooking and cleaning, they also housed a wood shop.
“I mean, at first I thought they were a little bit out of their mind, ” John recalls. “But it’s been great ever since.” The first lamp he ever made John gave to his dad. “He still has that,” John added.
In 2011 John moved to Vancouver to attend the School of Piano Technology for the Blind (now closed) where he learned to repair and rebuild pianos.
And THAT is where John met Anni.
Chance brought Anni and John together. She was painting pianos for a “Keys to the School” fundraiser, he was repairing a piano in the same room (of course). Alone together for hours each day, they seemed in sync in so many ways.
But it was Anni who had to take the first step. When she asked John out for a date, he hesitated.
“I was so broke,” John explains. He knew he would have to get creative, and fast, if he wanted that date with Anni. At the time, John was cultivating peas on a knee-high spider web hedge of twine at the Marshall Community Gardens.
“Then I thought, ‘Hey, we can pick peas in the garden!'” he said.
While pea-picking may not sound too promising for most aspiring couples, for these two piano artisans, it was pitch perfect.
“We picked peas at sunset,” Anni recalls. “It was the most romantic date I had ever been on.” Three years later they tied the knot in that very same spot.
The happily ever after
Together Anni and John have crafted a shared life defined by art and collaboration. Working mostly with colorful exotic woods, John crafts jewelry dishes, cups, canisters, mortar, pestles and recently he has added honey pots with beehive-shaped dippers to his collected offerings.
Anni’s projects include, but are not limited to, painting, fiber art and designing cards and prints. Working within the Habitat Store building, she often spends her lunch hour making the rounds and gleaning new, used and raw material for future projects. She also advises John about colors, patterns and other visual characteristics of the wood he will select for his pieces.
“For the first couple of years I was woodworking, when I knew I had to use the table saw I would break out in a cold sweat,” John said.
Anni laughs, “Now I break out in a cold sweat when I hear him in the shop!”
Now this great duo has something new up their sleeves.
Coming up: A Cosmic Children’s Book
Now this great duo has something new up their sleeves. In the works is a new children’s book the couple hope to get published this year. It’s a little bit a little bit science, it’s a little bit fantasy and it’s all sweetly poetic.
“We wrote it together, it’s basically a poem about a girl who rides on the back of a whale in the cosmos. It tells the story of a comet’s life cycle in a very poetic way,” said Anni.
See more of Anni’s and John’s work at furnissstudios.com
MORE ON ANNI and JOHN
– John has now been woodworking for 14 years.
– For several years Anni was the ‘Story Lady’ at the public library where she worked for 14 years.
– John volunteered with Evergreen Habitat for Humanity to retore a house attached to the School of Piano Technology as part of the A Brush with Kindness program.
– John is certified in small engine repair, and volunteered his services at the Habitat Store.
-John’s prefers working with exotic hardwoods, in particular padauk.
-John repaired and rebuilt pianos for two years. (“Getting a piano rebuilt is just as expensive as getting a car rebuilt. It’s multi-thousand dollars investment… I love restringing. If I could do nothing but restringing I would still work on pianos, but by the time they need new strings, they need all the other stuff I don’t want to do.”
– Through a grant from the State of Washington, John was able to purchase a safe-sliding, double beveled miter saw. “I’m extremely careful,” John added.
– ‘Colonel Sanders’ is the name of the electric sander John purchased at the Habitat Store.
You can experience their work:
2019 Washougal Studio Artists Tour
(Open house: Anni will be live painting while John will work on the lathe.)
Washougal Art Festival, August 10, 2019
The Artful Attic, downtown Camas
Mon Ami Cafe, Vancouver
On Etsy as TheBlindWoodsman