Before I met with Johnny Snyman of Heartwood Bows, I scanned his website in the hopes of gaining a little insight into his unique craft. To be honest, I know very little about archery, but I do recall as a young child being wide-eyed and enthralled by the Native Americans in the TV series Bonanza and the way they could shoot an arrow whilst moving at high speed on horseback.
Whilst scrolling through his site, I came across an article which Johnny had written back in 2004, titled “The Legacy of Lighthouse Marcello.” The piece really moved me. He asks the question: “Does he who receives a handcrafted wooden bow know that in becoming his weapon’s master, he too accepts part of its maker? For mingled with the grain, most of the time embedded into the wood lies a little of its maker’s sweat, and heaps more, of its maker’s heart.” The story is extremely poignant and I managed to glean from it a small sense, perhaps, of the allure of archery and the labour of love that goes into crafting a bow and arrow.
Johnny picked up his first bow and arrow at the age of six and from that moment on, archery played an integral part of his youth. He spent many happy days during his childhood target shooting in and around his birth city of Johannesburg.
After completing his military service he went on to work for almost a decade as a professional diamond diver off the West Coast and it was here that his innate passion for archery was seriously rekindled. He realised that when he wasn't diving, he needed to find something constructive to occupy his time in the quiet desert town of Port Nolloth in which he was based, and so he immersed himself in what he loved most – archery - and started making his own bow strings and arrows.
He later went on to work as an offshore diver on oil rigs in both West Africa and the Far East but eventually felt compelled to fulfil his passion and decided to give up diving permanently in order to dedicate all of his time to his craft. The financial reward from many years in the diving industry provided the spring board which he needed to take the plunge. He settled in Sedgefield and hasn't looked back.
Making a bow takes considerable skill, and it took Johnny several years to fully grasp the complexities behind it, because before one can successfully execute the handcrafting of a bow and arrow, one needs to understand the exact physics behind it. Through trial and error and sheer determination he soon started perfecting his skills and it didn't take long before word of mouth did its thing, and he has since become well known, both locally and abroad, for his handcrafted Laminated Composite Custom Bows.
He uses a variety of timber in the construction of his bows and arrows, including both exotic and indigenous hardwoods. Contemporary bow making is a perfect marriage between traditional methods and materials comprised of wood, bamboo and special transparent uni-directional fibreglass. By combining time-honoured, traditional techniques honed over many years with modern materials, Johnny manages to produce exquisite, functional works of art.
Johnny has also spent the last 15 years providing the film industry with a diverse range of archery equipment and expertise, which has made Heartwood Bows a leader in its field. Johnny has supplied archery equipment, technical advisory and archery instruction training for movies such as: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 10 000 BC, Doomsday, Scorpion King- Rise of the Akkadian, Savage Land, The True Shepherd and several other TV productions such as BBC History of the World and the Crusoe TV series. These and many other recent Hollywood productions have certainly put archery on the map, and the culture as a whole has grown and gained momentum with many taking part in archery as a recreational pastime.
Visit Heartwood Bows: www.heartwoodbowsonline.com for more info.