johnson

Jerry Johnson poses with some of his artwork at the Pendleton Art Center.

Even though you might not realize it, you’ve probably seen the art of Jerry Johnson.

He’s responsible for most, if not all, of the signage painted on the windows of businesses from Columbus to Lexington to Pikeville, the art and the lettering, all painted free hand — no stenciling.

“God blessed me and my brother with that talent,” he said, referring to his older brother, the late Walter Johnson. The brothers were the only family members with talent for the visual arts; Johnson said other family members were musically inclined.

For a few years, the brothers worked together, but as siblings do, they butted heads a bit.

“He had his own style and I had my own style,” he said, adding his style has a more modern look than his sibling’s did. After his brother died at 79, Johnson took over the business.

He also designed the logos used by Marshall University, which led to his appearance in four scenes in the movie “We Are Marshall.”

As much talent has he has for commercial work, there is more to Johnson’s talent than sign painting.

The 57-year-old self-taught artist spent a year working for Walt Disney as a cartoonist and two years as a cartoonist for the Navy Times, a job he had while stationed in Albany, Ga.

He spent several years in Seattle, Wash., too, where he began to make discoveries about his style of painting.

“I was painting in Seattle and Los Angeles alongside artists like Bob Ross,” he said. “That’s where I learned speed painting.”

He had an agent there, too, and was one of her youngest clients.

“She said, ‘There’s something you do that’s different,’” he recalled.

One day, he said he met a merchant at the mall where he was painting who sold a variety of African art and artifacts.

“I told him, ‘I bet I could paint those for you. If you buy the supplies, I’ll paint those for $100 apiece.’ He was selling some of those paintings for $1,000,” Johnson said.

And that’s what he did and that’s how he discovered what it is that he does that’s different.

“I paint by history,” Johnson said, adding that local history has become an important influence since he and his wife returned to Ashland, about five or six years ago.

“Most people don’t know about Avendale,” he said. “I lived it.”

Johnson said he grew up in the Avendale section of Ashland, currently the location of the Ashland Tennis Center. When he was a child, it was a poor, black section of town. Not many remember it, he said, and few or no records exist documenting it’s history.

“There’s a stone there that marks where my house was,” he said.

Since he’s begun asking around, he’s found a few residents who have photographs of Avendale who have been willing to share them with Johnson, who has made paintings from them which have sold quickly.

Many of the photos came from members of the congregation at Pollard Baptist Church, which sponsored the Avendale Mission in Avendale.

Johnson fondly remembers a kindly Mrs. Weinfurtner who coaxed the children to church with her generosity and genuine love of people.

“She gave us pop and cookies and things like that we didn’t have,” he said. “She took us and bought us shoes at stores we weren’t even allowed to go it. She was straight-up a gift from God.”

Johnson said he hopes to stir up an interest in preserving the history of Avendale by using his true love – painting.

“I love to paint,” he said. “If I don’t have a paint brush in my hand every day, something’s wrong.”



LEE WARD can be reached at lward@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2661.

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