This month’s featured artist is local self-taught photographer John Wiltison.

Wiltison grew up in Luke, Md and attended Bruce High School where he was a member of the 1967 undefeated Bulldog football team. He also proudly represented Western Maryland at the state level in Basketball and Track. He studied psychology at Chapman University in Orange, California.

Wiltison also spent 26 years as a member of the United States Air Force where he earned the rank of Senior Master Sergeant. In this time, he travelled far from home – spending 16 years in California, 3 in Oxford, England, and 4 in Arizona.

Wiltison was a jet engine mechanic at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works plant and worked on the SR-71. The SR-71 was not just one of the world’s fastest airplanes, but it was also a spyplane with a powerful camera. The SR-71 and its predecessor the U-2 flew high enough to slip past radar, but thanks to their long-range cameras, they were still able to capture pictures. These planes were instrumental in intelligence gathering during the Cold War, and are considered two of the Skunk Works greatest successes.

After he completed his time in the Air Force, Wiltison worked for 15 years as a juvenile counselor for the State of Maryland as well as Backbone Mountain and Green Ridge Youth Centers. He is currently a mentor for the West Virginia National Guard Challenge Academy.

Wiltison’s art journey began 10 years ago with $4.99 disposable camera. When his family saw the pictures he was taking, they encouraged him to continue. Wiltison has three children who support and encourage his artwork. One of his sons is an Air Force Colonel and is the Vice Wing Commander in Pittsburgh. His other son is a local contractor, and his daughter lives in California.

One year, Santa brought Wiltison a Kodak easy-share for Christmas after his daughter-in-law exclaimed “Papa John, you take amazing pictures!” He taught himself how to take pictures, with no formal training or workshops. Several of Wiltison’s artist friends have even remarked that he is “a natural”.

Wiltison refers to his trips out to shoot his photography as “coffee runs”. Rather than setting out with something specific he wants to shoot, Wiltison finds his inspiration by riding down back country roads in his 1970 C-10 pick-up truck with his Black Lab Midnight.

He pulls much of his inspiration from Mother Nature and the environment around him, particularly the rain or fog in the mountains. He says his favorite time to go out and take pictures is just after a rain storm, when the clouds are different. Wiltison not only uses nature to inspire his photography, but he also likes working with stone and has built several stone walls next to his log house.

He enjoys visiting farms and always has his camera at the ready when he goes for a ride in his truck. Wiltison does not alter his photography or spot-fix anything with software or a computer, employing what he calls a “just take it” and “all natural” mentality. Authenticity is important to him, it is one of the things he loves about the place he calls home, and his photography practice reflects that. Wiltison explains, “When you want scenery that doesn’t come from an IMAX Screen, when you want history that has been lived in, that’s when you want Western Maryland or Northern West Virginia. We’re authentic. We’re real.”

Wiltison exhibits his work at County Fairs in Garrett and Preston County, and has won 12 blue ribbons with his photography. He is a member of the Morgantown Art Society, where out of 500 pictures, two of his were picked for the final show. His pictures have been featured in the Morgantown paper twice. He also participated in the McGrew Art Show in Kingwood, and the Annual Buckwheat Festival.

You can find Wiltison’s photography at The Gallery Shop, 108 S. Second St, in downtown Oakland. He also has a photo included in the collection of work by The Gallery Shop currently showcased at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center in McHenry.

The Gallery Shop is a project of Garrett County Arts Council is funded in part by the Maryland State Arts Council, Garrett County Government, and through membership support. For more information or to become a member, contact GCAC at 301-334-6580, visit garrettarts.org, and like Garrett County Arts Council and The Gallery Shop on Facebook.

To read the entire issue, visit http://www.lakefrontmagazine.com