by Nancy E. McCarthy
Victor artist Bruce Trojan is enjoying a second arts career after his retirement as a music educator in 2005. Trojan, a trumpet player who taught music in the Greece Central School District for 33 rewarding years, has shifted his focus and energy toward the visual arts. The artist is a creative woodworker who produces mixed media pieces. His works combine lathe-turned wood with flat woodwork. Trojan’s most recent creations include bending brass rods or plastic to create curves and imply a sense of motion.
In high school Trojan had equal interest in music and art but his academic schedule only permitted one or the other. Music ultimately won out. He attended college at the prestigious Eastman School of Music where Rochester native Chuck Mangione, the acclaimed trumpeter, flugelhorn player and composer, was a major influence. Trojan played in the Eastman Jazz Ensemble under Mangione’s direction. He also performed some professional dates with Mangione in his orchestra, both as a student and after graduation, including a noteworthy Carnegie Hall concert.
Trojan graduated in 1972 with a Bachelor of Music in Music Education degree. Visual art lay dormant for a couple of decades as he pursued his music career. During his tenure in Greece, Trojan taught all grade levels at various points in time, eventually focusing on middle school students. In the mid-1990s Trojan became interested in woodworking. This casual hobby grew into what is now a passionate vocation.
Trojan was born in Buffalo, New York in 1950. He was raised, along with older sister Gail, in Depew and later Clarence. Gail, a talented artist, was his earliest artistic influence. She taught her brother how to color, and the siblings also sang and danced together. Their parents weren’t arts-focused but Trojan recalls a memorable excursion with their mother to Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery to view a Vincent Van Gogh exhibit. Trojan “fell in love” with Van Gogh’s style and it left a lasting impression. He also fell in love with the trumpet thanks to trumpeter Eddie Calvert’s popular 1955 recording of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” During his teaching career he fell in love again—this time with local trumpeter and fellow music educator Dina Alexander, whom he married in 1991.
He credits Alexander as an inspiration to him both musically and artistically. The couple recorded a CD together entitled “Celebrate! Music for Two Trumpets and Organ.” His wife also gifted him with several large woodworking tools over the years, including a woodturning lathe. “I think she unleashed a monster!” Trojan jokes. Now essential to his work, he notes that he didn’t even know how to use a lathe when she gave it to him. This large, versatile motorized tool spins a work piece uniformly so the artist can shape wood into a desired form (and is equally handy for sanding, applying finish and buffing).
Perfecting the Art
When Trojan was a hobbyist, his main focus was honing his skills. He also took woodworking classes with modern furniture designer John Dodd and learned different ways to use wood as a medium. Trojan developed his own unique style over time and was inspired by other creative woodworkers. Most of his pieces now would be characterized as decorative or artistic—versus functional items such as bowls or cutting boards. “I truly enjoy the challenges, rewards and risks of being creative,” says Trojan.
It is not surprising that many of his works are musically-themed. Trojan characterizes one of his decorative pieces, a whimsical wall hanging entitled Badda Bubinga, as an “art guitar.” The Picasso-inspired Badda Bubinga, featured in the American Woodturner journal last year, has 65 turned parts created on a lathe, and 13 other components made with traditional woodworking methods. “It was several years ago that I decided to combine the two techniques into my work,” Trojan explains. Part of his design process is to make a base to work from (analogous to a painter’s canvas) and then he creates his “story” by painting it and making embellishment pieces that are either screwed, glued, or inlaid onto the base. Trojan works with many wood species. Bubinga, used for the art guitar, is an exotic wood from Central Africa. His favored local wood is maple, due to its tight grain and pleasing light color.
Trojan’s large basement shop is divided into quadrants: one area for cutting and sizing wood, another for finer shaping and building. A third area houses a compressor and dust collection system, and last: a place for painting and finishing. For inspiration, a poster of jazz legend Miles Davis hangs over his lathe. The famous trumpeter was also a talented painter.
Trojan is an enthusiastic member of the Finger Lakes Woodturners Association (FLWT) which he helped to start up. FLWT, a local chapter club of the American Association of Woodturners (with over 350 chapters worldwide), provides a forum to discuss ideas and share information, techniques and experiences of woodworking members who use a lathe to craft their work. “I owe a lot to many of its members as they mentored and inspired me into becoming a skilled woodturner,” he says.