WIESBADEN, Germany - Mary Johnson doesn't fit the image of the stereotypical artist.
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She doesn't live the painter's life in a drafty, loft apartment in Paris. Her world is not one of mingling with fellow artists over late night drinks while discussing the next movement in the world of painting. And she certainly doesn't have endless time to spend contemplating her next project.
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Johnson, an Army spouse and the mother of four young children ranging in age from 4-9, paints whenever she has a free moment in her busy day.
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But that doesn't mean her world isn't full of inspiration and feedback - thanks to an upbringing in Montana, appreciation of the world around her and an ever-expanding following on Facebook.
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"I've always painted since I was a little girl," said Johnson, who explained that growing up in a home without radio or television and having a mother who also expressed herself through art were instrumental in nurturing her desire to do likewise. "We went to museums and we were always going to antique shops to look at old art. I remember having a child craft book and I would lie upstairs forever looking at it.
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"In college I couldn't decide between theater and art - and I went with theater," Johnson said, adding that a college artist friend and attendance at art exhibits continued her interest in the medium.
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"Right before I got married is when I sold my first commissioned piece," she said. That artwork, which hung outside an Espresso Shop in Montana, was eventually stolen, she added, to the dismay of the owner.
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Then came marriage, children, family separation while her husband served on two deployments to Iraq, more children and eventually the chance to spend more time on her art again.
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In between she concentrated her creative energy on cooking. "Culinary arts is where I focused my creative arts. I need to be creative, otherwise I'm not a very happy person.
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"I've had some really difficult experiences with the deployments and having four children," said Johnson, mentioning only a few of the challenges of combining military family life with a blossoming art career - an emergency gall bladder operation and "nobody ever needing stitches except when Dad is deployed.
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"I started painting again in September 2009 when my youngest child started school full-time. ... I definitely have grown up - have had to become really resilient."
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Thanks to photos of her work on her Facebook page, Johnson was quick to sell one of her paintings and received commissions to do more.
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She is also currently showcasing two of her paintings along with the work of other Artists for Freedom - an international organization dedicated to ending human trafficking - at an exhibition in the German town of Lennestadt.
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"I am excited and honored to have my first exhibit be with such a great organization and to further such a good cause," said the 35-year-old, self-taught artist who works in several mediums including acrylics, oils, watercolors and encaustic paints (pigmented beeswax).
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One of the works to be featured, a painting called "Stolen Sisters" created to raise awareness of the problem of human trafficking, was partially motivated by American Forces Network commercials on the subject, she said. "Human trafficking is a real issue, both here in Europe and in the States. I'd like to bring awareness to this issue and remind Americans living in Europe to be vigilant.
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"The women in my painting are nameless and faceless, but those who are exploited, whether for the sex trade or for domestic reasons, are not nameless, faceless people," she said. "They're someone's daughter, sister or mother, and they deserve our help. The last thing you want to do is to further a woman's captivity and degradation by supporting her captors.
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"The child sex trade is really frightening to me. There are a lot of women out there who get tricked," she said, adding that people who frequent establishments based around the sex trade should consider how their patronage supports the exploitation of women.
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The Artists for Freedom exhibit continues through June 26 in Galileo Park in Lennestadt (north of Siegen).
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"I feel like art is another form of language," said Johnson, encouraging others interested in expressing themselves through art to not be deterred. "Don't give up - keep painting. Do what you love - it helps you combat stress."
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For more information on the Artists for Freedom exhibition visit www.artistsforfreedom.net. To view more of Mary Johnson's artwork and to provide feedback and support visit www.facebook.com/pages/Mary-Johnson-Artist/307279116107.

Page last updated Mon June 14th, 2010 at 08:14