H. O. Studley Meets The Spider Man


Spider Johnson and H.O. Studley, two cool cats posing in their studios, a century apart.

I am blessed with a wide circle of interesting and engaging acquaintances including artists and artisans, political operatives and those who are generally opposed to them (uh oh, that might be me), vinophiles and connoisseurs of fine tobacco products and those who are abstemious (hmmm, me again), global travelers and those who hate to travel (ditto), thoughtful theologians and scientistic existentialists.

While I was on my recent 4,000 mile trip driving to and from south Texas — and what can be more lovely than the weather in south Texas in the middle of August? — I had the good fortune to cross paths with several of this company.


Spider searching his palette of wood veneers hanging like textile samples. It make sit easy and quick for him to find just the piece he needs.

Somehow I found this pile of marquetry  scraps to be visually captivating

I found this pile of marquetry scraps to be visually captivating

Musician and artist Spider Johnson is a friend of many years, but also a contributor to my upcoming book from Lost Art Press,  Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.  Spider’s artistry is in the form of marquetry murals, and we spent a long time in his studio in the rural central Texas hill country, talking about creativity, techniques, projects, craft technology, and his collaborations with Silas Kopf.  Afterwards we sat down to eat barbecue ribs, broiled asparagus, and okra salad.

Maybe there isn’t much better than Texas in August.

Actually I love the idea of Texas.  What’s not to like about a place where you can spot a business like “Al’s Guns and Barbecue” along the side of the highway?  (Truth be told, I think something called “Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives” should be a chain of convenience stores, not a goobermint bureaucracy)  Take out the nutty collectivist politics of Houston, Austin, and San Antonio and add a dash of Alpine climes and Texas just might be Paradise.  Perhaps I should buy a piece of land there for after the secession…


Many useful exchanges of information and inspiration ensued, but eventually we got down to the business purpose of the visit, namely discussing Spider’s contribution to the book in the form of an essay on the Masonic symbolism employed by Studley in the tool cabinet.  For a long time we browsed through probably hundreds of images from my (and Narayan’s) many trips to study and photograph the Studley Toolchest over the past three years.  Spider interjected a number of questions to guide me in my examination this coming October, which is our last scheduled visit before I start knitting together the vignettes I have already penned along with lots more writing of the manuscript in earnest after Christmas.  Like everything else I am learning about Studley, this both clarified and obscured the portrait of him, and I find Henry O. Studley to be ever more enigmatic as my research progresses.

It is good to have friends like Spider.  I just wish they were not scattered so far about.