By Layne Saliba
DCN Regional Staff
When you’re binging “Ozark” on Netflix, you may be wondering how they’re going to hide all that money, or who’s going to get killed, or what’s going to happen next with that casino plan. But for John Robinson, all those things are the least of his worries.
He’s focused on the background — the walls behind the bar — at the Blue Cat Lodge, a recurring location on the show.
“I got a phone call from a producer,” said Robinson, owner of Blue Ridge Bear Sculptures. “I'd made some bass before that they’d seen and then they ordered all the fish for the bar, so that was cool.”
Robinson is a wood sculptor, using mostly chain saws to create his grandiose sculptures. He’s been at it for seven years, making all sorts of signs, benches and wildlife out of stumps and logs. He sculpts people, too. Back in 2016, he carved the late local attorney Dan Summer outside 431 Green St. in Gainesville.
But more recently, he’s been providing sculptures for “Ozark” and HBO’s “The Outsider.”
While Netflix purchased all the fish sculptures you see on the walls of the Blue Cat Lodge along with a few bear sculptures throughout the show, HBO purchased a totem pole and rented a couple bear sculptures.
“It's kind of surreal to be honest,” Robinson said. “Because I never thought my stuff would get that kind of play. So, I think that's pretty cool … Who would have thought, seven years ago, that this would happen?”
When he’s working in his shop at his Cleveland home, wood chips fly. He used to be more careful and precise, but over time he’s learned he has to be a little more aggressive when sculpting.
“A lot of times, I was just chipping, I was taking little slices, being scared,” Robinson said. “But now, I'll just lop off big pieces and be real aggressive, because you can't really make mistakes.”
Maybe that’s why he’s gotten business from TV shows. Or maybe it’s because he’s simply in Georgia. Whatever the reason, Robinson doesn’t mind. He’s just happy to be doing something that gives him a little escape from his day job as a nuclear medicine technologist.
He never set out to be this successful, but he said he’s “more than busy for the time I've got.” It was a hobby, but his success has landed him in some competitions and now he’s looking to get on a circuit that could take him traveling across the world.
That was the whole reason behind him building the Ghost Rider sculpture that sits in the middle of his workshop. He wanted to prove he could do it and practice for competitions.
While he chases that dream now, the fact that his work has shown up on so many people’s TV screens is almost like a dream in itself..
“This was never the goal,” Robinson said. “It was just for fun. It was kind of a goof. My neighbor carved professionally, I went over and watched him do it and carved one and got like $350 for it and thought, ‘Oh, maybe there's something to this.’”
He spends his evenings wearing earmuffs and an apron, focusing on a log and making the creature inside of it come to life.
Whether it’s an eagle, owl, bear, cougar, Sasquatch or anything in between, Robinson said he likes to give his sculptures movement — something more than just sculpting from one log.
He takes multiple logs and attaches them to each other piece by piece — body, head, wing, tail — to give his sculptures more life and more of a three-dimensional feel.
“It's original work,” Robinson said. “A lot of people that get in the carving business, they don't do stuff that has movement to it, or too many curves. I do a lot of things with curved nature, so it's original from that aspect.”
That’s what makes his work special and what he thinks the shows like so much.
While producers could go online and likely find plastic pieces that've been imported or even make a styrofoam sculpture themselves that might serve its purpose, they’ve gone to Robinson because of his expertise and his ability to create exactly what they have in mind.
“It's just a unique art, and people like to see things that are different, even on TV,” Robinson said. “People just love to see things that are out of the ordinary.”
And he does the same with his customers who want something for their own home or business.
Shawn Weisgerber owns Timberloft Cottages in Helen with his wife, Penny. They went on a trip to pick up a log bed for one of the cottages and passed by Robinson’s home — guarded by both a Sasquatch and bear sculpture in the front yard. They were impressed with the design and ended up using Blue Ridge Bear Sculptures for a sign at their property.
“We pretty much just gave him a call and felt pretty good about having him do it,” Weisgerber said. “We loved his work. It’s beautiful.”
At his workshop, Robinson sculpted three bear cubs, each measuring about 4 feet long, that are climbing on the 18-foot tall sign. But on location at Timberloft Cottages, Robinson sculpted an 8-and-a-half-foot tall bear that stands next to the sign.
“It's more than what we envisioned,” Weisgerber said. “It's pretty awesome … From what we've seen, there are carvers and artists. And I can only describe John as an artist. He's just over-the-top compared to what we've seen people can do.”
You can see Robinson’s work in a lot of different places. He’s working on a collection of bears that will go outside Chamber of Commerce businesses in Cleveland. He’s been contracted with Great Wolf Lodge, making benches for their resorts and water parks around the country. He’s building a few owl sculptures for a school in Atlanta and carved a throne-type seat for the Atlanta History Center.
On top of that, he’s done plenty of personal work for people’s houses.
“It's just kind of gone off the charts,” Robinson said.
As he continues to work at his hobby-turned-side-hustle, Robinson is hoping for more work in the TV industry. He enjoys seeing his creations when he’s out and about, but there’s something special about seeing it on screen.
“I mean, I don’t know that many people who get these opportunities,” Robinson said. “It doesn't happen to too many people, so I feel pretty fortunate about that.”