Johnston was born in Osceola, NE, moved to O'Neill in 1963, graduated from O'Neill High School in 1968, and is employed by Car Quest.
Jim began carving around 1976. By 1994, he was entering state level competitive carving shows in Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Montana, wining many blue ribbons in various class levels. Jim is mostly self-taught, but has also studied books and the work and techniques of other wood carvers---however, he does acknowledge that his talent is God-given. He states that "the downside of being self-taught is it's trial and error", however this way, "one can develop their own style." He has had the privilege of attending a weekend seminar in Iowa taught by Bob Guge, who is a world champion bird carver, although Jim admitted that his primary reason for attending was to "learn the painting skills." Jim's goal and dream is to one day enter a carved piece in the Wood Carving World Competition in Salsbury, Maryland.
A few years ago, Jim was on a trout fishing expedition in Montana, and really not having much success. He was becoming quite frustrated and decided to sit down on a log and take a little 'time out'. As he sat, a Western Tanager landed next to him, close enough that Jim could have reached out and touched it. Jim felt that this was God's way of saying, 'chill out'. That experience provided the inspiration for the carving of his piece entitled, 'Respite on the Boulder'.
Curly Maple, European Spruce, and Ebony from Africa are the woods Jim has used in the construction of his standard, blue-grass type, Florentine style mandolin. Mother of Pearl is inlaid in the peg head, and abalone shell is inlaid in the fingerboard. This hand-built mandolin is "easily in the thousand dollar class". Naturally, with more inlay and the use of top quality wood, the price would increase.
I asked, "Would you rather build mandolins or carve birds?" Jim answered, "Both." As for the mandolins, he says he "enjoys the challenge of building them." "It's neat to make your own music on an instrument you built." He adds, "I build them better than I play them...hopefully the next one won't have as many wrong notes on it."
Jim is an incredibly talented individual. My photos do not do justice to his creations; one would need to view them in person to fully appreciate the extraordinary quality of his work. O'Neill is currently raising funds for a community center, and in this writer's opinion, I think it would be an honor for our citizens to have a special display of Jim's work in a prominent location in the finished project. What better way to represent 'community' than to include 'one of our own'?