Meet the Maker - John Gudenkauf of John Galen Designs
Mr. Gudenkauf, thank you so much for allowing all of my fiber friends this rare glimpse into your world. Most spinners, even if they don't yet own one of your spindles, know your name well. But none of us really know the man behind the art, do we? We all know you are a spindle and jewelry artist. What did you do before you started John Galen Designs?
I have always been in the trades and that started young. The first unpaid job I had was learning offset printing at the age of 9 – then I left school early in the 9th grade to work in our family printing company and have had a succession of jobs (chicken fryer, dish washer, tree trimmer, farming hand, furniture maker apprentice) and primarily worked in the printing trade in my early adult life. I went on to become a massage therapist – then when I figured my hands would wear out too soon, I started making furniture and repairing and remodeling homes, which became my main vocation for nearly 20 years – except for 6 years spent designing, patenting, and manufacturing a convertible bed system. Now I’m tired :-)
What drew you to spinning and spindle making?
After a life of watching Yani (partner/wife) knitting and spinning, and visiting spinning related events and retreats, I was drawn to the spindles and decided to put my own spin on making them – especially since I am not a fan of wood-turning and there was already a sea of brown spindles out there.
What is your favorite thing about being a maker/artist?
Design. I’ve always loved designing everything from logos (in the printing trade) to a variety of furniture designs, interior design and the implementation of said designs – to all the crazy stuff I do with spindles.
What is the most challenging thing about being a maker/artist?
Confidence. I still have a challenging time seeing myself as an “artist,” and I constantly doubt my artistic abilities – although after 5,000 spindles made, that is becoming less of an issue. The other biggest challenge was the year 2020, which is the year I decided to attempt to do this art as a full time job – then pandemic – then business died – then roared back to afford me a full time job making spindles. Go Figure!?!
Please tell all the ladies, are you spoken for? 😊 Yes? Tell us about Mrs. John Galen Designs. How did you meet? How long have you been married? Does she spin on your beautiful spindles?
I met Yani, the love of my life, in my home town of Nogales, AZ and we’ve been together since March of 1985 – right on 36 years. The first time I (sort of) met her was in a McDonalds Drive through; she was in a car in front of me with two friends who were desperately trying to pull her back from hanging out of the window yelling at me “Hey, I want to meet you!” It was some months, and a chance visit when I was visiting with the brother of one of her friends before we met. After spending only a few hours with her, I totally fell in love with her and have never looked back. She mostly spins on a Louet
Do you have a big family? Grandkids?
I came from a family with 3 other siblings of which I am the youngest, and my father was one of 13 children in his family (Yikes - Iowa farmers). Yani and me have two sons who just turned 33 and 35 years old, and I have a most amazing 5 year old granddaughter, Lily Marie, who shares the same birthday as my oldest son.
What are your hobbies outside of your art?
I like to hike and spend time with my children and granddaughter, who I have found my match when it comes to boundless energy. Other than that, I love creating my fiber arts tools and anything else that can be fabricated or made better with the ridiculous amount of tools that I have - to do pretty much anything and everything.
What is your inspiration? Your spindles are so different from everyone else’s – and you are definitely drawn to vintage timepieces – where did this niche originate for you?
I love metal work, bright colors, and shiny things – all of which is clearly evident when you look at anything online that is related to John Galen Designs. My father, Galen Gudenkauf (my middle name is actually Galen), became a well known watchmaker after apprenticing with a master-watchmaker – then becoming one himself in the last 25 years of his life. I was drawn to the intricacies, beauty, and incredible craftsmanship that was evident in looking at his watch collection – some which dated back to the 1600’s. I tried working on them, but really didn’t enjoy trying to get these tiny fiddly bits to work, nor did I see any value in it for myself. The first Timepiece Spindle that I made was with a couple of dials and various parts that my father gave me a few years before he passed away; since then, I have a vast collection of, watches, dials and parts and really love combining these into spindle art.
Have you traveled, and if so, have any of the destinations inspired your art?
I never really had much opportunity to travel outside the Western US, but we did a lot of small trips with our boys when they were growing up. The most inspiration for my art has come from the wonderful people that I met while attending the Southwest Spinner’s Retreat in New Mexico with Yani in New Mexico; I personally attended this event 4 times and that was the motivation to start making and selling spindles.
Is there somewhere you have not been to that is on your bucket list?
I would like to visit Australia and New Zealand (mostly to go on a trek to Mordor J), and pretty much anywhere now that there’s been a *#)$*@!!! Pandemic for the past year.
What book is on your nightstand right now?
Nothing – mostly due to working late every single day and night, but I do hope to change that some day.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what are some songs on your current playlist?
I do! I love nearly everything by Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues. Mostly rock.
Give us an idea of what your workday is like.
I get up at 6, drink coffee and eat, turn on the computer and view emails and print orders, spend an hour or so viewing social media (mostly spinning related/avoiding political chaos) and an hour or two of web-site/Etsy Shop work, then designing/working on spindles. I stop and spend time with Yani mid-day/every single day (since she is my best friend and I enjoy her more than anything) – then I frantically package and fulfill my orders between 5 and 6:30 and rush out to the main post office to get them scanned in before last collection time at 7 – then I come home and finish up emails/web work – usually by 9. I spend time with Yani between 9 and midnight – then go to bed – the get up and do it all over again. I do enjoy the vast majority of my life – and although it has never been easy, and has been Full-O-Constant-Work for decades, and we’ve seriously lacked funds for the better part of it, I have loved so much of it and would not trade any of it if I could.
All of us spinners always wonder if any of the makers know each other or what they think of their work. Are there any other makers you have come to know over the years that you are friends with or who you admire for their work?
I admire the work of Golding and a few other's, but I tend to do my own thing. I also admire spindle makers who love wood turning and create beautiful works of wood art - mostly because I just do not enjoy wood turning... At all!
Well, Mr. John Galen Gudenkauf, we all view you as a very talented artist and are looking forward to some new spindle releases from you soon. Thank you for your time!!!