What started out as a way to keep his hands busy and his day full has become a hobby with a Hollywood ending for Tahlequah resident John Tillison.
About two years ago, he started making handmade items from old fence and barn wood. One of his works was purchased recently by a set designer who develops background settings for the television series, “Hawaii Five-O.”
Tillison said began woodworking as a daily routine after experiencing five heart attacks, three heart surgeries and a quadruple bypass.
“I can’t work anymore, and when you get hit in the face with your mortality, a lot of things change,” he said. “I’ve found just being out here [in my workshop] just relaxes me. It takes my mind off all the other stuff. It beats the heck out of sitting around worrying about if today’s the day or not. The last hospital visit I had wasn’t very encouraging.”
His first brush with death occurred Dec. 15, 2006, and for about three minutes, Tillison was deemed clinically dead until brought back to life by a seventh resuscitation attempt. When a relative, who is a church pastor, asked him to build her a cross, he discovered real fulfillment from saving old wood. He started turning it into a table or candle holder, or the golf ball/trophy display rack that will be seen hanging on the wall in the background on an episode of “Hawaii Five-O.”
“I made [my cousin] a cross, and I just fell in love with it. Since then, I’ve just tried to make different things. This stuff is in a burn pile getting ready to be burned,” Tillison said. “As far as making things, 30 years ago, I made some bookcases and things like that for some family members, but I’ve never really done much more than that. It’s just been in the past year and a half or two [that I started working with wood again].”
Tillison joined an online website, www.Etsy.com, last November, and it was on this site for handmade furniture and other items that the Hawaii Five-O set designer came across Tillison’s work, and ordered the golf ball/trophy display rack.
“She gets on to Etsy and shops for handmade stuff and she saw that display rack,” he said. “She sent me an email, saying they were going to use it in an upcoming episode. It’ll just be a prop in the background, but I thought it was pretty neat. I’ve sent some of these little candle holders; they’re nothing fancy, but a guy down in Australia bought them. I’ve sent stuff to New York, California, Louisiana - all over the place.”
Before health conditions altered Tillison’s work life, he spent 14-hour days behind a desk for 20-plus years as a finance director for automobile dealerships.
“This is like whole other world to me. I can’t say this just happened. I went through a pretty good period of depression where I sat around every day, wondering if this was going to be the last one,” he said. “I don’t want to spend my life that way. It’s not fun. Doing something - being - just having something to do. That gives me enjoyment. I feel so relaxed. It’s calming, if that makes any sense.”
Aside from adding to the furniture props in the world of television production, Tillison now has handmade wooden items that family members can hold onto and use.
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