John has worked in fields as disparate as blacksmithing, glassblowing, sculpture, and dance. However he is quick to assert that all of these making activities are, for him, explorations of the same fundamental questions about matter and consciousness. He currently works primarily as a musician, instrument builder, and educator who performs internationally and teaches both kora (West African harp) and traditional West African drumming from his home base in Brattleboro.
John shared his thoughts about being a Vermont artist.
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
I first came to Vermont to attend The Putney School in 1982. This move from New York City to the Green Mountain State fostered and transformed my creative processes in so many essential ways! I learned blacksmithing . . . made an ax . . . and built a log cabin in which I lived until I was graduated in 1984. Though I didn’t realize it until my sophomore year in college, it was the process of building and living in the cabin in the woods that, in the most important ways, showed me that I was a sculptor and not a painter. During my days at The Putney School and since settling in Vermont after graduate school, I have found the state’s natural beauty to be deeply grounding and at once restful and inspiring.
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
Vermont’s alternately liberal and cantankerously conservative culture has been fertile ground on which to cultivate the more recent transformation from sculptor to instrument builder and musician. In many ways, I feel more connected to my community through my work as a musician than I did through my work as a sculptor. While building sculpture nourished my intellect and curiosity about the nature of the physical universe, making music has grown my compassion and sensitivity to the nonmaterial world.
What is your vision for the next several years?
In the next several years I intend to keep spreading love through music! I would like to play more public events like concerts to compliment the private events like the weddings and parties that, presently, constitute the bulk of my work. I would like to play more with other people. Living in a small town makes it challenging to find other musicians with whom to collaborate but I’m always on the lookout for the right person or people. I would also like to do more teaching again (classes and private lessons) of the kora and traditional West African drumming.
The “I am a Vermont Artist” series explores how artists’ creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state’s first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist. This story by the Vermont Arts Council originally appeared at https://www.vermontartscouncil.org/blog/i-am-a-vermont-artist-john-hughes/