Art has emerged as an important focus of the city of Suwanee that has enriched the lives of its residents, and many key figures, local artists and residents have played a major role contributing to the community’s growing awareness and appreciation of art. One of those people is Vickie Johnson, local artist, teacher, and co-founder of the North Gwinnett Arts Association. At Suwanee Magazine, we wanted to learn more about Johnson, her art and her involvement with the art community, so we asked her some questions and here is what she had to say…
Suwanee Magazine: How old were you when you first found your passion for art?
Vickie Johnson: I remember making art as early as kindergarten – my teacher told my mom I would be an artist! I remember that I once colored Smokey the Bear’s overalls a really dark black and my teacher fussed at me – I’ve been making dramatic art ever since!
SM: Did you take art lessons?
VJ: I have taken art lessons at different times throughout the years. My favorite teacher would sit and create a painting in front of the class – I learned the most from his style of teaching. I had another teacher who had the messiest house I’ve ever seen! You had to walk through her home on a small path because there was so much clutter, but she taught me one of my most important pieces about art – how to utilize colors to create black!
SM: Who was/is your inspiration?
VJ: I don’t believe I can say there is one single person or artist who inspires me more than any other. I enjoy creativity in any form, and have an admiration for all who share what I consider to be a part of their inner being. I will say, however, that were it not for the love, support, and encouragement (lots of it!) that my husband provides, I’m not sure if I would be producing art at the rate I do today! I have really blossomed and it’s all due to his support over the last few years. He is my number one critic, roadie, salesperson and promoter!
SM: Tell me about your teaching career.
VJ: I taught at Collins Hill High School for 14 years, during which time I taught art to special needs students. I earned recognition as the Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year in 1998, as well as earning other awards locally and nationally, such as the AJC Honor Teacher Award, the Christa McAuliffe Fellows Award, the Learning Disabilities Association National Teacher Award, and a few others. I moved to Central Gwinnett High School four years ago to teach regular education art to all students, grades 9-12. I love art and I love teaching young people who enjoy learning what art can do for their world!
SM: Do your students inspire you? And if so, how?
VJ: The answer is definitely yes. I am always amazed at what young people can accomplish in more new and innovative ways than I could ever think of. This is a whole new world and each generation is advancing by leaps and bounds. For example, we no longer teach cursive writing – young people use a keyboard now. And, what is a 35mm camera? They only know the digital world and what you can do with a good digital camera and a good photo computer program. I love trying to keep up with them – it keeps me young and inspired!
SM: How does it feel, as an artist, to live in a community such as Suwanee that values art and local artists?
VJ: Wow! What better place to live than in Suwanee’s Town Center? I have a bit of urban life in a small town setting where I can look out and see a great sculpture in my “front yard” and enjoy walking downstairs on Saturdays to make art with other artists at the NGAA Open Studio. The city has been extremely supportive of what this organization is doing for our community, and it’s clear to see the arts are of value to the people in this area. Suwanee has been a piece of the puzzle coming together to make a great art composition!
SM: As one of the founders of the North Gwinnett Arts Association, how did the group come about?
VJ: Suwanee was an undiscovered territory as far as an art community goes – artists, creative folks of all forms, and art lovers have come out of the woodwork since the formation of the NGAA! I was tired of driving to Atlanta whenever I wanted to be with other artists, and Alan Zarter (the other co-founder) was tired of going to the North Georgia Mountains whenever he wanted to be with other artists. We decided the time was right to create an organization in this area, and we were right!
SM: How has starting the organization helped and/or impacted art/artists in the area?
VJ: Artists and creatives have “found” each other. It’s been a great source of support and encouragement for those who want to grow in their discipline, meet others who are in their same shoes, and experience some hope that they can do more with the gifts they have.
SM: What are your goals for the future, both personal with your own art and your career as an art teacher?
VJ: I’ve been thinking a lot about my future goals – my retirement from the public school system is not far down the road and I’m still not sure what I’ll be when I grow up! But I do know that I will continue to create my art, grow the North Gwinnett Arts Association, and teach young people through private lessons and small group settings. What more, who knows! For now, I look forward to each day and what it brings, and I thank God for the blessing of art in my life!
SM: What was your first medium of choice and how has your art grown?
VJ: I came from the period in time where acrylic paints were first making a debut. I started with them because of the brilliancy and versatility they allow. I can paint thick, thin, bright, dark, glossy, dull, quickly, slowly – what more could you ask for in a medium! I also love to work with oil, a medium which has an old world history of richness and sophistication. I’ll have a realistic oil painting in progress on one side of my studio, and a loose, acrylic contemporary painting going on at the same time on the other side of the studio – what fun!
SM: What are what you believe are some of your greatest achievements when it comes to art?
VJ: I can honestly say my greatest achievement, one which I get to experience frequently (thank goodness!) is the feeling that I get when I am able to produce a piece of art that someone wants to hang in their home and enjoy. What better blessing could there be? Awards will come and go, but the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment I feel when someone enjoys my artwork is all I really need to keep me going!
SM: Where does the NGAA stand in membership today?
VJ: We currently have 115 active members. Just like with any organization a percentage of the membership are very involved, another percentage are somewhat involved, and a small percentage are just “along for the ride!” The important thing is that we have all ages and forms of the arts in the group and we have a great time!
Vicki Johnson first moved to Suwanee in 2000 into one of the community’s subdivisions in a large and roomy home suitable for a growing family. But once her family grew up and moved on, she and her husband, Chris, decided it was time to downsize. “Town Center had just risen from the woods, and the coolest condos were being built above business spaces,” she said. “We loved it and made one our home.” Her personal art studio is now on a rooftop overlooking the park at Town Center.