MOUNT VERNON — Vernon Johnson is a name well-known to many in the Mount Vernon area for his visionary paintings of life in Mount Vernon during the 1950s. Recently, his daughter, Janis Johnson, published “The Artist’s Eye: Vernon P. Johnson’s Watercolors of 1950s Small Town America” in honor of her father’s visual legacy of the community.
Vernon Johnson lived in Mount Vernon for many years working for Shellmar Products Corp. and establishing himself as a commercial artist.
Janis recalled living in the area until the 1960s when she and her family moved away, but not before the small town life claimed a “home” in her family’s heart.
“[Mount Vernon] has always been a special place to me, and my family has always held long ties there even after we’d moved,” said Johnson. “My father was really well known in town. He was president of City Council when he lived there, and very active in Rotary Club, Homestead Club and the Country Club. It was very meaningful to my father to be active in the community.”
In 1990, Vernon was recognized by the Knox County Historical Society through a retrospective collection of his watercolor paintings with a collection of 50 watercolor paintings photocopies and 10 original works.
A year and half after her father’s passing in 2005, Johnson was inspired by a Fredericktown resident who was interested in returning many of her father’s paintings to Mount Vernon.
“My father painted these paintings for friends and associates, he really wanted them to have them in their families,” said Johnson. “This really gave me an idea to create something for everyone to enjoy as opposed to only a few people enjoying his works.”
Drawing from information from her mother (Marcia Hall Johnson) and those from Mount Vernon, Janis was able to fill in the pieces to the puzzles of her father’s work. Her four-year journey to the book’s completion was a major investigative effort for the journalist/writer. As the ball started rolling, she received help from the community through interviews, documents and oral histories on the legacy of her father’s work in Mount Vernon.
She had a “great fortune” that her parents never threw anything away, she said. “So when I was cleaning out their house, and my dad’s office, I found letters, photographs, other paintings, and it was just like a treasure trove of resources.”