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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.”
Art created by area students is hanging at State Senator Mark Johnson’s office in St. Paul.
The art includes:
“The Tower” Black and White Print by Kristy Williamson who lives in Gatzke and attends Greenbush/Middle River School District. Kristy created this linoleum print when she was in 8th grade and now she is a Senior. It is a limited edition. All the letters in the words needed to be carved in mirror image for the print to be legible. She received 2nd place in our art show this year for this print. Here is her artist statement about the piece, “This piece is particularly close to my heart. The most difficult part of this task was planning out all the words backwards. Linoleum printing is one of my most favorite mediums because how difficult it can be. I like a good challenge.”
“We All Fit Together” Painting of flag by Amy Follette who lives in Crookston and attends Crookston School District. This painting was created as she pondered the meaning of the flag amongst protests this year and her desire to serve in the military in the next few years. Here is her statement about the piece, “When I decided to create this piece when the controversy on whether or not to stand for the flag was big in the news. I also have recently fallen in love with cubism. So I thought that making a cubism painting of the American flag would be a great representation of our country. We are all different and have all different pieces of ourselves, but when we all come together we all fit with each other, we make each other whole. I tried to demonstrate this in my painting.”
“A String of Planets” Colorful print by Elise Monson who lives in Grygla and attends Grygla School District. Students love to create art that shows something that captivates them and prompts their learning and in her case exploration. Statement, “My intention was to just try and create the vision I had in my head. I knew I wanted to have lots of shades and different textures.”
“In Sight” Photograph by Spencer Wittman who lives in Warren and attends Warren/Alvarado/Oslo School District. Passing time by being creative with photography. Statement, “This photograph explores my quiet patience, in my hunting stand, waiting and hoping for a deer. There is pride and tradition around hunting within my family. The aspect, that most of the time, nothing is in the scope … but at any point a deer might come into view, is what I hoped to capture.” This piece was in the NW Art Exhibit last year.
The Northwest Minnesota Arts Council is pleased to announce that the 4th edition of our Artists of Northwest Minnesota booklet is available for retail locations and others who are interested. This is a marketing booklet that will be distributed throughout our region.
The booklet includes information about a variety of creative people and artists, including visual artists, dancers, bands, musicians, performing artists, and theater directors, editors, writers and fine crafters. The booklet helps those who are listed reach out to the general public and is a means to help the public “get in touch with them” to purchase art, book them, or have them provide a service.
Arts organizations, dance studios, stores with local art, local suppliers of supplies and materials for artists, coffee shops that have open mic or live bands often, etc. are included in the back of the booklet.
Please let us know if you would like copies to distribute or for yourself. To view the booklet online click here.
email@example.com or 218-745-9111.