Ashland Resident Since: 1992
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Introduction: Johan Ziems was born and raised for 16 years in Weimar, East Germany. When he was 14 years old
The Wall that surrounded and isolated East Germany was disassembled. It then took another two years before East Germans had the freedom to travel.
Shields: Tell us a litte bit about how you left East Germany and came to the West.
Johan: After the wall came down, I got to travel for the first time. I went to Paris and London and then, when I was 16, I got drafted into the
military. So when I finally had the freedom I always wanted, I was facing 2 years of military service.
At that point, I decided to leave and start a new life. I packed up and sold everything I owned and moved to New York City.
At this point, I was 16 years old and on my own without even speaking the language. The first couple years I put myself through high school, taking freshman and sophomore English everyday.
I then found a host family in Grants Pass through Calvary Chapel Church. I stayed with them for over two years, graduated from high school and put myself through college at RCC.
Shields: What is it about you that lives for creativity? Was it being confined, growing up knowing another experience was available?
Johan: It felt like when I was 16 and was released from communism. It was almost like I was conscience of being born a second time. Because I grew up so oppressed in communism without TV, magazines, toys. Without fancy cars or materialistic stuff. I grew up in a very gray, oppressed society that was full of love but lacked the excitement, which is especially here in America. So with the collapse of communism, it was interesting for me to be consciously 16 years old experiencing another birth into this world, and being in control of it. Making decisions on what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Who I wanted to surround myself with and who I didn’t.
Shields: The first time I talked to you, I got the impression that the creativity just flows out of you. Tell us a little bit about Nuwandart and how that came to be.
Johan: That was another interesting birth that occurred six years ago. When I moved to Ashland, I remember walking around with my portfolio from gallery to gallery and basically being denied by many because my work was too controversial or didn’t fit in with what they wanted. I wanted to create a gallery that would create art for art’s sake and not just as a selling factor. So I did.
Shields: You guys have done a lot of really creative stuff with the gallery and even have your own fire truck. (And, its bright blue I might add.)
Johan: The fire truck is another childhood dream I always had. I wanted to drive my own fire truck and not have to necessarily join a government service to do it. A friend of mine from the the UK was living in San Francisco doing a record label called The Blue Room. Everything he had was painted blue. When he was moving, he gave me a good deal on the truck.
Shields: I understand that you have done extensive world travel on your own, as well with your dome
company. Can you tell us about one your most
Johan: One of the most interesting travels that I have done was driving from Ashland to Nicaragua and back a couple years ago. When hurricane Mitch hit, I took a lot of supplies from Ashland. Toys, seeds, domes, bedding, clothing, blankets and supplies. I just filled up a truck and drove all the way to Nicaragua, donated it and drove back.
That was a great trip. I gave it mostly to kids or needy families who needed it. Upon arrival, I decided who I could easily help without any of the political drama or relief-effort bureaucracy.
Shields: You demonstrate an amazing level of trust and confidence to just pack up and decide to do something like this. I think in this society everyone wants to work through some organization or have everything planned perfectly before they take any action.
Johan: I think action is always better than talk. You loose your energy just talking about it. If you just get started, things create and manifest in amazing ways.