This blog post about Artist and NWMAC Board Member Janet Johnson is written by Sarah Meisinger, Owner of En Liten Svensk (A Little Swedish) Shoppe in Roseau. You can read this and other blog entries at https://www.alittleswedishshoppe.com/blog.
Artist Story – Janet Johnson of River’s Edge Studio
July 1, 2018
I asked Janet several questions to help me kick off the Artist Story Series on the Blog. Here’s Janet’s story, in her own words.
Little did I know as a child growing up in Williams, Minnesota, that I would one day have my own studio and would be selling my art and showing it in a gallery! After all, our little school which didn’t even offer kindergarten back in the day, and never had an art teacher. I had no idea I was interested in or had any talents in art until I took my first art class in college as a general ed credit, and just kept going. I was determined to teach English at the time, but earned my teaching certificate in both English and Art. Teaching English at a high school level and raising three daughters left little time for me to pursue my art interests, but in the middle of my career, a year after a life changing event, I was asked to teach middle school art. I said no several times because I felt that I had nothing left to give. I finally took that chance, and that has made all the difference in my life!
Doors opened for opportunities that helped me grow as a person and as an artist. People on a statewide level actually valued my input and it amazed me. My confidence grew. My connections with other artists developed.
Because I had left my art in the shadow for so long, I had to scramble to catch up in order to teach middle school students. I hit the books and the internet and talked to other artists and art teachers. I found that giving kids basic skills and then stepping back to let them develop their own artistic voice was very successful—and joyful! By the time I retired in 2013, my high school students were winning awards and being showcased at the state level and in regional competitions. My own art was improving as well, because I was constantly studying and practicing and exploring different methods and mediums in order to pique the interest of my students.
My art studio, which I developed after my husband and I built a new house shows evidence of my zest to learn as much as possible in as many mediums as possible. Uff da! My studio is FULL! However, it has become apparent that I need to focus on just a few mediums, primarily pottery. Why? There are only 24 hours in a day, and I have gardens, a husband, and a family who also need my time. I decided to focus more on pottery because it is beautiful and utilitarian. In economic terms, pottery sells better. If I want to continue to create art, I need to sell some of it too.
I still do some painting, mixed media, and print making, as well as teaching a variety of art classes, and mentoring other artists, but most of my time is spent on the potters wheel. I have shown my work in a number of art shows sponsored by the Region 1 Arts Council, as well as at the Riverwalk Gallery in East Grand Forks. When Keith and Tom Pringle began planning to open a coffee shop in Roseau, they asked me to show and sell my paintings and pottery there. What a wonderful opportunity! Then when Sarah Meisinger decided to open her En Liten Svensk Shoppe on Main Street, I was again asked to bring in my pottery. For a time I also had my work at The Plaid Walleye in Warroad. These wonderful opportunities keep me producing work, which is a good thing.
Never one to be satisfied with a little knowledge, I constantly challenge myself to learn new techniques and work with different clays or glazes.
I am somewhat self-taught, but that is because I constantly observe and talk to other artists, and I am an avid fan of Pinterest! I don’t like to copy what other artists have done, but rather use what I see and learn in order to recharge my own creative juices and practice basic skills. When I took a pottery class in college many moons ago, I never really learned how to consistently center clay on the wheel. My on-going research and many attempts now help me to help others who are struggling with centering clay.
Problem solving is one of the prompts that gets me out of a “good enough” rut. When I didn’t like how pocket mugs felt at the tips of my fingers, I designed a different type of handle that would snuggle the hand, but not crowd my fingertips. Thus, the Snuggle Mug was born. When a thin spot developed in a cylinder I was throwing, I learned how to control the way the clay fell instead of just taking the clay off the wheel and throwing it in the recycle bucket. These pieces become my “soggy bottom pottery”—truly one of a kind pieces!
When I don’t like the direction a painting is going, I might mask off an area and cover up the rest of what I had started, and then go from there. In a nutshell, the art work itself is not sacred, but the process of discovery is. Much of what I start, especially with painting and drawing, follows a path different from what I first intended.
Those usually are the most successful works—when I just dive in fearlessly and let the work develop itself.
This attitude toward working creatively and letting go of my ego spawned a collaboration with another artist friend of mine. We decided to work together on creating a dozen mixed media works of art, agreed on some simple rules, and pinky swore that we would still be friends when we were done. The result was a body of work that still amazes me. One of those pieces is perhaps my favorite. It incorporated my “long distance” relationship with my mother whom we buried on my 22nd birthday, as well as some of my grandmother’s hand crocheted lace. Everything wove together with vines from a plant my mother gave to me, and which I gave to my friend who drew it into our composition along with a gate from her childhood. Both of our lives touched the lines and colors and patterns to create a piece that is poignant and timeless.
Where does my creative process end? At my end I guess. I cannot imagine a day without being creative in some way, whether I am planting flowers, adding personal touches to our home, singing to the birds, helping another emerging artist along the way, or going out to my studio to see what delicious mischief I can create out there. Every day I work at becoming the person and the artist I was always meant to be.
Janet’s goofy side as she plays the “poetress” in the community production of “My Name is Alice.”