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Artist opens exhibit at Saint Mary’s

Madeline Miles | Thursday, November 3, 2011

Local artist Janet L. Johnson discussed her icon exhibit on display at the Cushwa-Leighton Library at Saint Mary’s on Thursday.

The exhibit features portraits of Christ and the saints painted in traditional icon style.

Johnson, a former teacher of the year at the Elkhart Area Career Center and mentor to 27 award-winning students in the National Skills/USA design competition, said she turned to painting as a way of achieving deeper spirituality and relaxation.

“I came to doing icons to give me a state of relaxation and meditation,” she said. “It gives me time for prayers and thoughtfulness. Growing up in a Catholic church, being surrounded by ornate imagery, going to Mass every day of the week … had a very big impact on my life.”

Even though painting icons is a way to relax, it does have its difficulties.

“Icons are very difficult because they have to be perfect,” Lynn Edison, a fellow painter and friend of Johnson’s, said.

Doni Hoevel, another friend, said the challenge of painting icons does not lie in the need to be creative.

“Icons don’t require a lot of creativity – it’s basically repetition from the icons in the past,” Hoevel said. “It’s very difficult to repeat something so perfectly.”

Johnson said a lot of time is spent on technique because each icon is painted with 80 to 100 layers of paint.

“Every brushstroke has a prayer,” she said.

In her artist’s statement, Johnson said she takes a spiritual lesson away from each of her paintings.

“Whether it is Mother and Child, Jesus or a saint, I have much to learn from [the icons],” she said in her statement. “With every brush stroke I am able to focus with a special intention for someone, a small prayer or mantra or a kind of divine obedience to be quiet in the presence of the image on which I am working.”

Johnson said she is not the only one who can learn from the icons.

“By looking into the face of an icon, a relationship may develop and will assist others on their spiritual journey.”