Wood Of Character

Artist lets medium direct efforts

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Roger Buchanan is as much a character as the furniture he creates out of recycled wood.

His pieces must be functional, but also have a humorous bent.

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"I've always had an affinity for wood," Roger Buchanan said.

"There's a lot of malarkey that is said about work that is supposed to be visual," Buchanan said.

If he puts a rock in a barstool and someone asks him why, he admits he might say, "Oh, it's to break your hard-boiled egg on."

He refers to the style of wooden chairs, media centers, shelves, old-time wash basin stands and tables he creates as "Gila County Gothic."

"Anything past its life is salvage. I try to find a way to convert it," he said.

Customers like it when he can tell them where the wood and accents in a particular piece came from and they may well get a colorful history lesson into the bargain.

For instance, when the town tore a tree out of the middle of the street to make room for the historical museum, he scavenged wood.

"I just finished a piece using wood from the house Stewart Jones lived in. He was born in Beaver Valley in 1936," Buchanan said.

Accents a piece of wood might cry out for are leather from old hand-tooled belts or rusted old metal.

As the wood takes its own direction, Buchanan said he feels compelled to keep his hands busy.

Buchanan finds it more satisfying working with the oftentimes quirky pieces of black walnut, mesquite and sycamore, than with conventional woodworking materials. He also spends more time making a piece structurally sound.

"I have to make measurements each time and know the wood," he said.

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Roger Buchanan's favorite medium is manzanita that has died in an erect position, drawing colors from the soil in which it once grew.

Buchanan readily admits math was not his strong subject, so he thinks the measurements in his head.

"Generally the pieces will fit just right," he said.

Wood, even the same type of wood, weathers differently. The wood on the side of a barn that gets the hot summer sun will look different from the wood at the back of the barn.

The pine fence posts he used to make two chairs oxidized more, the lower the post was to the ground.

Oxidation and fungus can bring out blues and purples in the pine.

Mesquite that grew in a sandy wash and died upright is Buchanan's favorite to work with.

The mesquite soaks up the minerals so the color and depth vary greatly, he said.

Although Buchanan has been familiar with wood since a boy taking woodshop classes in junior high, or taking wood and placing it in a hole then putting barbed wire around it to make a fence, his artistic beginnings were behind the lens of a camera.

He was a photography major at Arizona State University in 1970, so he knew never to go anywhere without his camera.

That is how his photos of TWA flight 486 came to grace the pages of Life magazine in June 1970.

Buchanan was on the same Phoenix to St. Louis to Washington plane Arthur Barkley decided to hijack at gunpoint.

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Roger Buchanan's background is in professional photography. His were the first hijack photos ever taken. They appeared in the June 1970 issue of Life magazine.

"Mine were the first hijack photographs ever taken," Buchanan said.

Buchanan graduated ASU the following year and went to work in his field. He went on to obtain his teaching degree in 1985. He taught at his alma mater, as well as Phoenix Community College.

When his mother, Marguerite Noble needed care, he relocated from the Valley to Payson and made the community his home.

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