Susan Johnston has been in Dover just a few short years but already the arts community has felt her presence. Her watercolors have been welcome additions to exhibits both local and regional, including the 2009 Delaware Watercolor Society's state-wide show in which Johnston took home Best of Show.
Susan Johnston has been in Dover just a few years but already the arts community has felt her presence. Her watercolors have been welcome additions to exhibits both local and regional, including the 2009 Delaware Watercolor Society’s state-wide show in which Johnston took home Best of Show. The “arts activist” also channels her passion into community efforts as part of the Downtown Dover Partnership and Greater Dover Arts Committee. Johnston sat down to chat while preparing for her exhibit “Object Poetry” went on display at the Dover Art League.
Q How long have you been a painter?
A I’ve been a painter all my life. Even as child, from my earliest memory, I’ve always been interested in the arts. And so, as I went through school, I love science, I love history, and arts; and actually the arts kind of blend into all of that. So, when it came time to choose a career, I actually moved more towards art education and then also continued to be an artist and a painter. And, with my husband’s opportunities, we moved several times with our children to advance his career, and I wasn’t able to continue in the schools. But, that’s when I got more involved in community arts programs and things that artists could do to generate energy in the downtowns that need that love and attention.
Q You’re pretty heavily involved in the Dover art community, right?
A Yes. I’m a member of the Downtown Dover Partnership Design Committee and the Greater Dover Arts Committee. My interests have been in the broader downtown area while also continuing to be a painter.
Q But, you were also instrumental in the start of First Friday. What did you think the event could add to Dover?
A When I arrived in Dover, it was an interesting thing. People started thinking I should be on these different committees. And, with the Greater Dover Arts Council, they were trying to figure out how to add more energy and give more attention to the arts. And, I said, ‘Why not start a First Friday,’ and they said, ‘Let’s get a committee to think about that’ and I said, ‘No, the next first Friday is like three weeks away and all you need to do is ask a merchant to invite an artist to be in their store and they can be open for an extra couple of hours and have refreshments.’ It’s a way of personally inviting the community back to downtown.
Q So, how have you seen the event progress?
A We started with just a few merchants who were interested and then as others saw that it could be a positive event, they wanted to be involved in it also. But, I don’t drive First Friday. It’s the merchants and the Downtown Dover Partnership. I may have sparked the idea but it’s not a new idea. A lot of communities do it. But, Dover needed that to help people feel comfortable coming downtown. And, I think the community is addressing safety issues and cleanliness. When you know you’re having a party once a month, you kind-of red up, so to speak, and get ready for another First Friday. And, it’s helped the Dover Art League because the exhibits change.
Q And you’re in the next exhibit at the Dover Art League’s gallery?
A Yes. The exhibition that I’ll be a part of in April is a month-long exhibition and I will open on First Friday. But, then, there will be another part to it with Taylor Collins and the other writers who will use the visual art as inspiration for a poetry reading on April 25. So, some of my work will be part of that inspiration of the poetry that will be read.
Q What will your exhibit be about?
A I’ve titled the exhibit, “Object Poetry.” I’ve always loved words, even though I’ve never spent a lot of time writing. But, I like the idea of the play on words with object poetry. You know, the object in my paintings and then also the fact that putting these colors and shapes and so-called objects are poetic visually. So, I look at a painting as, perhaps, poetry. But, just like anybody who does a lot of art, there are features of each discipline there: music, poetry, writing and visual arts. These subjects have similarities in terms of repetition, loud and soft, and emotional feelings that you can apply from one discipline to another. So, I think the exploration of that is going to be really exciting. There are all these layers to consider and explore between the visual art and the poetry.