Most of us would consider a road-flattened car muffler or the core of a discarded hot water tank junk. However John Wilson, senior counsel at Boylan Code LLP, and his wife dory driss (who presents her name in lowercase), rejoice in finding such objects and recycling them into artistic sculptures. The Wilson-Driss Studio in Rochester’s Hungerford Building houses all sorts of “found” treasures, from bicycle parts, to rusted grill grates, to well-weathered shovels.
Some of you may have seen their unique creations at the Volunteer Legal Services Project “Art of Lawyering” events in 2009 and 2011. Keep an eye out for their submissions to this September’s Art of Lawyering silent auction. They’ve promised to donate one or two new pieces for bidding.
Wilson, the lawyer
Growing up in Wayne County, Wilson is a third generation attorney.
“My grandfather and father were both attorneys,” Wilson admitted. “I started my education in a one-room school house where my grandmother was my teacher for grades one [through] five.”
Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree from Wagner College and started his career in New York City. Working in the business world, he decided to start law school by attending Brooklyn Law School at night. After just a few courses, he enrolled full time, earning his juris doctor cum laude in 1969.
He clerked for the Appellate Division in Albany along the way and landed in Rochester at the firm Wiser, Shaw, the predecessor to Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, where he started in the litigation department.
In 1974, Wilson, along with five other young lawyers, left Wiser Shaw to start their own firm: Beyma, Brown, Code Lumsden, Randall and Wilson — now known as Boylan Code LLP.
Wilson’s litigation practice is as varied as it is longstanding. He has been counsel to a regional hospital during its dissolution, obtained favorable dispositions of several civil rights and tort cases against a county government, and represented clients on cutting edge constitutional issues in state and federal court.
Wilson, the artist
Throughout his career, he also demonstrated a passion for art.
He took a pottery class in college, and went on to do raku pottery for many years, displaying and selling his creations at the Clothesline Festival and Corn Hill Festival.
“Raku is an ancient Japanese technique of hand-shaping pottery,” Wilson explained. “The pieces are removed from the kiln while glowing red hot and thrust into containers with combustible materials that provide luster and crackle to the glazes.”
For several years, Wilson and driss had a stained glass studio in their 100-year-old carriage house.
“About 8 years ago, I started taking classes at Mahany Welding,” he said. “When I had exhausted all the class offerings, Mike Krupnicki let me come in and to use the facility to make things.”
Krupnicki is president of Mahany Welding Supply, a family business in its second generation. His 11,000-square-foot store in Gates includes 12 welding stations in its training lab and Wilson speaks fondly of the year he worked there nearly every Friday.
After leaving Mahany, Wilson rented a studio at the Hungerford Building on East Main Street. Driss joined him in the studio after she retired. They have worked closely together for more than five years.
Wilson’s sculptures tend to be more geometric, while driss’ work is more whimsical.
A native of Long Island, driss came to Rochester as a special education teacher. She taught students with severe or multiple disabilities, as they entered Rochester City School District after their early intervention and preschool years. Recently retired after 36 years at Rochester City School #29, many in the legal community know her as a key player in the Monroe County Bar Association’s Lawyers for Learning program for more than 15 years.
Driss has a fondness for creating birds and bugs out of recycled metals. Most of her bird sculptures have names, and in addition to the ones in her own yard, she can tell you where Phyllis, Helen or Senator Byrd, or other such aviary models reside.
“Customers have come to expect my creations to have names,” she laughed. “I even get photos from people showing a particular garden sculpture dressed up for Christmas or some other holiday.”
Wilson and driss met nearly 40 years ago and have pursued their artistic endeavors together ever since. Driss helped raise Wilson’s two children, and both as a family and as a couple they have enjoyed canoeing, camping and traveling. With a daughter in Australia, they have traveled down under several times, taking advantage of summer weather at the Christmas season. There they have found artistic inspiration with all things Australian.
Dogs have been a major part of their lives. For many years they had a Bernese mountain dog named Moose. Since Bernese are good-natured, affectionate dogs, they said, Moose was trained as a therapy dog and worked at School 29 for several years.
Their Newfoundland, Bubba — even bigger than the Bernese — was truly a gentle giant at 185 pounds and brought a smile to many a child’s face. Today, Moses, another Bernese, is their faithful companion.
They are both avid readers, picking up titles from The New York Times book list. Driss also enjoys the Times crossword puzzle, even on Sunday.
Wilson said that they have a duality of friendships — from the legal community and from the art community.
“Our artist friends rarely think of me as a lawyer,” he chuckled. “And vice versa.”