I have written about my travels to Ely, Nevada many times. I have also told the story about visiting the annual Arts In The Park in Ely, Nevada... and all the great craftsmen I met while their.
The story of Johnnie Nicholson is filled with curves and twists. A banker with First Interstate Bank... turned his world upside down in 1975 and moved from California to Florida to help his family after his father passed away.
During this leave of absence from his job... he met Robert Hange... an old violin and hammered dulcimer builder. Bob took Johnie under his wings and taught him everything he knew about building flat top wood instruments. 2 and half years later, Johnnie, or J.R. for short, was trained and moved back to California to start his own company.
Since 1980 J.R. Nicholson has been in the business of creating exquisite works of art from wood.... which just happen to be musical instruments as well. He worked on making and selling his craft part-time for about 22 years. Now, he devotes all his time to this inde-craft venture.
Grammy Award Winner Mary Youngblood has one of J.R.s' dulcimers and she also has one of his brothers Native American Flutes. What a talented family!
J.R. is versatile with his abilities. He creates Appalachian style dulcimers, a fretted, plucked instrument which is also referred to as a mountain dulcimer or just a dulcimer, and the hammered dulcimer, which is a hammer-struck, trapezoid-shaped instrument. Also in his bag of tricks are harps and something called a psaltry.
He and his wife are now both retired from their J.O.B.'s and have a little more time for golf. It seems if you are doing over 12 shows a year and making these labor intensive product... well, I don't think he is retired from working. They are just taking their part-time business into a full-time home based business. They get to travel together which is a bonus!
When you spend time talking with Johnnie it is obvious that he loves his work. He has an amazing ability to get this instrument into the hands of anyone who shows an interest.
The musical instrument is so beautifully crafted that it can be intimidating to even touch one... much less hold it in your hands and try to play it. You also have to take into consideration that you will have an audience while trying to scratch out a few notes.
Guess who picked up and played the dulcimer last year? Cindy Lauper...and I saw it on the Martha Stewart show!
Someday he hopes to build a harpsichord. Do you know the difference between a piano and a harpsichord? Listen to the show.... he explains it all. I even get a lesson about playing a dulcimer. It seems to be a very easy instrument to learn, much easier than a violin.Johnnie says even after all these years of making musical instruments... he isn't tired of it yet. All the work is worth every minute. Lesson learned: Love what you make!
Marketing His Products
The name of the company is Unicorn Woodworks and yes they do have a website www.UnicornWoodworks.com but it's prices that are wrong and products they don't sell anymore. He says it's going to be new and improved soon... but you can call him at 208-585-9659 for information.
Johnnie only markets through craft and music events that he shows at. That's it. He doesn't do one inch of advertising... ever. He has had several articles written by local newspapers after the show, but he doesn't advertise. Amazing. All crafters' should be so lucky.
Oh... and he tells us how he learned the lesson - Every thing is for sale and everything has it's price. Even if it's your sample or your personal musical instrument. His biggest challenge at this point is having enough product for each show he wants to do... again, all crafters should be so lucky.