Hanging in There


Hanging in There

Self-taught woodworker John Sensenbaugh gets his inspiration from an unlikely place

By Kelly Umenhofer

For years, John Sensenbaugh had no idea what his shop was missing—that is, until a friend introduced him to the scroll saw. Now he devotes all his time to making scroll sawn projects, especially wooden wall hangings. In a little over three years, John has created more than 40 unique pieces that are displayed in various settings, from the West Coast to the U.S. Capitol.

His piece, “Who’s Next?” found its permanent home in the office of U.S. Representative Mike Thompson. The wall hanging caught Mike’s eye once during a visit to John’s house in California, and now it hangs above his desk in Washington, D.C. John’s art has also been featured in several venues around his home state, including schools and art galleries.

“My portraits seem to draw people in,” John said. “People are always surprised that they are made entirely from wood.”

         John presents U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson with his                “Who’s Next?” Uncle Sam piece in Washington D.C.  

To create his wall hangings, John takes inspiration from assorted media—vintage travel brochures, nursery rhyme illustrations, colorful advertisements, and even old Hollywood films. Sometimes, the source material is less flashy and more poignant: last year, he saw photos of essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and knew he had to pay tribute to their bravery somehow.

“When I happen upon a scene somewhere, I say, ‘Oh, wow, I have to do that!’ and that becomes my next project idea,” he said.


   This piece, inspired by essential field workers,     contains types of wood such as purpleheart.  

Other times, the inspiration comes from closer to home: recently his friend Barbara Nemko, superintendent of Napa County Schools, asked him to make four wooden hangings for a local preschool (see below). The more challenging a design, the better. After selecting a pattern to tackle, he chooses a type of wood.








These nursery rhyme-inspired pieces hang in Sattui Preschool in Calistoga, CA, a newly constructed preschool.


John deliberately selects wood for a project based on color, texture, and grain direction. Once the pieces are cut and minimally shaped, he finishes them with various acrylic paints and stains. The entire process takes him anywhere from 50 to 100 hours, but John doesn’t dwell on that; often, while in the workshop, he loses track of time, totally immersed in his own creative process.

Currently, John is working on his next creation. The design consists of three musicians performing in a jazz bar.

“I am going to need every bit of those 50 hours for this piece!” he said, “It will be difficult, but I’m always up for a challenge.”


For more information on John’s creations, email him at email4john@comcast.net


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