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Merle Johnson of Lincoln City creates intricate art despite living with vision loss

COURTESY PHOTO: MERLE JOHNSON - Merle Johnson teaches classes in wood turning with vision loss at Hull Foundation and Learning Center. The Hull Foundation and Learning Center has been providing workshops for decades to empower people who are living with vision loss. Volunteers make many of these events possible. Volunteers like Merle Johnson, who has taught workshops on the art form of wood turning now for four years.

Johnson himself, who is now 75, began losing his vision in 2002 and navigates with a guide dog named Davey. He began attending retreats at Hull Park in 2017, participating in a moderate adventure where he went kayaking, whitewater rafting and tree climbing.

"I've been to several (retreats) since then," Johnson explains. "Now I mostly volunteer. Anything I can do to help Oral Hull, I'll do."

Johnson says he's done some form of wood working his whole life, making boxes and toys from wood, as well as dabbling in other crafts like ceramics, before he lost his sight.

Johnson began turning wood to make bowls, keychains, wine bottle stoppers, pizza cutters, pens and more in 2017. He learned how to navigate the craft by touch rather than sight at a workshop for blind veterans.

Without being able to see his medium, the Lincoln City artist says he draws inspiration for his creations from the feels and smells of the woods he uses.

"I love wood turning," he explains. "It's so relaxing for me."

Johnson adds that having a creative outlet makes living with vision loss easier.

"I have good days, and I have bad days, which we all do," he says, explaining that it does sometimes take motivation to get going or want to create.

But he adds: "Life is what life is and you have to make the best of it."

For Johnson, volunteering at Hull Foundation, providing him with the opportunity to socialize and help people, also motivates him. COURTESY PHOTO: MERLE JOHNSON - Johnson turns bowls, pens and more out of wood.

"(Being at Oral Hull is) an opportunity to meet my peers," Johnson says. "It's the camaraderie that's appealing (and) being able to talk to people about the same time of issues you've had. I also enjoy sharing my craft and helping others do it, too."

Johnson is one of several artists living with vision loss whose work is featured in the Hull Foundation's ongoing virtual art auction.

The auction opened with a virtual reception on Friday, Oct. 8. Bidding closes at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15. The proceeds from the auction will be split between the foundation and the artists represented, with 40% going to the Hull Foundation and the other 60% benefitting the artists.

For information on bidding or the auction, visit facebook.com/events/606380137056512/?ref=newsfeed.

It's not too late!

Johnson's art can be found up for auction still through Oct. 15.

The Hull Foundation and Learning Center staff is hosting an art auction online highlighting work by artists with sight loss from Oct. 8-15. For more information, contact the foundation office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 503-668-6195.


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