Mary Johnson art exhibit stuns students

Lidia Vassar
Staff Writer

Mary Johnson, a sculptor with a fondness for familiar materials, gave a lecture in Ostrander this past Monday evening detailing her artistic progression. From ornate and delicate helmets to large scale installations, Johnson has found her inspiration in recycling other people’s trash and making it into treasure. 

Johnson spoke very lovingly of each of her works, going into detail on the materials she used to construct them. Some of her first adventures into sculpture were her warrior-based pieces. She drew a lot of inspiration from warrior legends, including her fascination with the samurai.

She carefully crafted helmets using materials she had found, mostly things that would be thrown away, and created collections based off of the scale of the accessories. Some were human, others were (adorably) dog-sized, and the smallest were made with Barbies in mind. All included the same attention to detail. 

Pieces of clothing were not limited to warrior garb; Johnson also utilized dog toys as a medium. A dapper coat made of the hides of many of these toys was one of the pieces she enjoys wearing personally. It was colorful and had a variety of different textures. My personal favorite piece she produced, however, may have to be her Nightingale Rug.

A vibrant and varied collection of textiles, collected neatly into a rectangle, filled with random squeakers… it seems like an exciting addition to any household. Probably a great burglar alarm, too.

Moving on from dog toys (as great a medium as they may be), a truly pivotal point in Mary Johnson’s artistic life was when she created a shanty, just a lovely bit of rubber arranged as a shed, and orchestrated some performances utilizing the space it provided as a changing room.

Decorated performers came in and out of the shanty dressed as fishing paraphernalia. It was the clean up afterwards that really sparked something for Johnson, however. She was instructed to ensure that all plastic was removed from the site, in order to preserve the local ecology.

This got her thinking about how she could use her works to encourage this same priority for others. The next decade of Johnson’s life included a variety of large sculptures with a theme of recycling and reinvigorating the environment. From a frog to a fish, they all embodied something about the land they were planted on. 

This repeated focus on where her materials come from has lent Johnson inspiration for many projects. One of the most poignant, described by her as being “the end of the line for the materials,” are her lint babies. Strange, almost-cute but also deeply unsettling, Johnson has made over one hundred baby-like lint aberrations.

Collecting and taking donations of dryer lint has given her limitless material to work with. With varying colors and textures, each faceless baby has a certain mood associated with it. All feel deeply interactive, as if you’d love to touch them but are concerned about finding what may be buried in their little lint bodies. 

Johnson’s works are truly the sum of their parts. She employs aa great degree of care in her constructions, and this can be felt by those who share her appreciation for used materials. There’s still time, so head to the Conkling Gallery and take a look at her lint babies for yourself. They may just spark something inside your lint body, too.

Header photo by Andrew Bravo | MSU Reporter.

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