In case you didn’t know, Arkansas is the Artisan Brush Capital of the world – or at least that’s what John Williams of Grizzly Bay proclaims. Williams creates lathe shaving brushes, music batons and other custom works. Based out of Bauxite, Arkansas, Williams has been a major contributor to the local Artisan Brush Capital.
Williams first got interested in creating custom shaving brushes when his friend, Rob Moffett of Chisel & Hound gifted him a custom shaving set one Christmas. “I got my first lathe in July of 2017. I really felt the need for a new hobby that wasn’t in any way related to my day job,” says Williams. He was a teacher at the time he started his hobby-turned side-business, but is currently working as an engineer. Williams stays busy between work, lathe-spinning and keeping up with his three year old daughter.
A normal week for Williams goes something like this: “On Saturdays, I prepare blanks. Resin comes into the shop as cans of thick, clear liquid. I add dyes, micas, flakes, and the like to create cylindrical chunks of material to spin on my lathe – large ones for brushes, smaller ones for batons. If I’m working with woods, I’ll get them cut and glued up. Sunday afternoons, I’ll start turning and this continues through the week. When I come home for lunch, I’ll grab a quick something to eat and turn. When I get home from the day job, I turn until my girls get home. Then it’s all about polishing, mounting my Grizzly coins in the bases of brushes, etching bears on the shaft of batons, taking/editing photos, creating listings on my website that go live on Fridays at 5:00PM, packaging, shipping, and the process begins again,” says Williams.
This cycle pays off in the long-run. Williams and Moffett turned and sold 1,700 handcrafted wet shaving brushing in 2020, and Williams plans on turning brush number 2,000 in the next month. “I’ve shipped to 48 states (if you know anyone in Vermont on Rhode Island who needs something, let me know) and 31 countries show far,” says Williams. But his custom wet shaving brushes aren’t his only hot commodity, Williams also crafts music batons that are unique to his brand. “My batons are unlike anything else on the market,” says Williams. “My batons have been used on some big stages – Juilliard and Lincoln Center to name a couple I know of. It’s wild.”
There is no doubt that Williams is passionate about what he does. The time he dedicates, the thought he puts into each piece and the pride he has in his brand is testament enough. “I really enjoy getting into the flow while standing at the lathe; taking away material with a general plan in mind, but free to adapt and respond to each blank as I like in the moment. My brushes and batons each have a distinct Grizzly Bay shape or “cut.” While they can stretch and morph a bit within these design limits, there are key features present in every Grizzly Bay product that makes it easy to spot while scrolling through an Instagram feed,” says Williams. “I enjoy the game of changing things up while retaining the Grizzly identity with each handcrafted piece that is released into the wet shaving world. My batons are unlike anything else on the market, and my brushes have their own thing going on, too. Years ago, I read an interview in which a craftsman said something to the effect of, “…and now I’m very famous – in very small circles,” and thought that was a brilliant outlook.”
In February of 2018, Williams’s daughter, Jadie Max, was born ten weeks early with complications and kept in the NICU. “I cut a prayer band in every group I made until she came home eight weeks later,” says Williams. “It was a rough ride, but she’s now a walking, talking miracle kid. In the years since, I’ve revisited these “Max Limited Editions,” in a spirit of gratitude.” Portions of profits from the “Max Limited Editions” go toward The CALL in Saline County and Perry County to support foster children and families in need. “For every Max Edition handle sold, I’ll donate $30, and for every Max Edition combo, I’ll be donating $50 to The CALL. Last year, it was a neat $2k. I’d like to top that this year, so I’m really going to be cranking them out,” says Williams. For this entire month, Williams will be spending extra time at the lathe for The Call. More information on The Call and the services they provide to the community can be found here.
Dedicated to his craft and his purpose, Williams is all-in to the art he creates. “I’ve always been into making, creating. Grizzly Bay has proven to be a great outlet for an artsy engineer. I’d encourage everyone with a “maker” spirit to chase that need to create. Make a thing, make another, make it better. If someone likes the thing, sell the thing to them to fund making more, making the next better again,” says Williams. An older and classic process, Williams finds satisfaction in the beauty of trade and its ability to withstand time.“There’s something really honest about, “I’ve made a thing. If you’d like a thing, I’ll trade it to you for currency to get things I need, and to make more things.” I like that. In the age of the internet, you’ve got access to a market that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago. It’s really quite remarkable. Do it.”
Check out more of John Wiliams’s work on his website and @grizzly_bay or @grazzlybaybatons on Instagram. See more of Rob Moffett’s work on his website and witness why Arkansas really is the Artisan Brush Empire.