Q&A – Questions and Artists – Molly Johnson

“Heartland” by Molly Johnson

I first saw Molly Johnson’s work in a Miller Juried Show at the Miller Art Museum in Sturgeon Bay several years ago. I was, and continue to be, amazed at her vibrant portraits. The next time I saw her work was early summer when she and Bren Sibilsky were a part of a Two Woman Show at the Cedarburg Cultural Center in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. I was there painting in the Cedarburg Plein Air Festival and was walking through the building. I was drawn to a painting called “Evening Light.” (You can see the painting on Johnson’s website, [email protected].) I was taken back to my grade school days in Racine, Wisconsin, walking home bundled up on a cold late afternoon.

Johnson creates in oil and watercolor mediums and uses both to paint local people, farmlands, and scenes along the shores of Lake Michigan. Her work has been shown in the 2009 and 2010 Oil Painters of America National Exhibitions along with the Transparent Watercolor Society of America National Exhibition. Her watercolor and oil figures were selected for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Richeson 75 International Juried Figure Competitions. In 2010 Johnson was published twice in the American Art Collector Magazine. She is a member of the Wisconsin Watercolor Society, the Transparent Watercolor Society of America and The Oil Painters of America.

Randy Rasmussen: Molly, what is it like getting up and knowing you are the owner and CEO of an art school?

Molly Johnson: Because I thrive off of schedules, multi-tasking and the thrill of control, my answer would be exhilarated!

“Beauty” by Molly Johnson

RR: Can you tell the readers about the new location and name of what has been called the Kewaunee Academy of Fine Art?

MJ: Four years ago my husband Brian and I purchased a four-story 1909 mill in the village of Denmark. We have been renovating it ever since to accommodate an art school and studio. Now that I have taken over the Kewaunee Academy and moved it to Denmark, we have renamed the school The Academy of Fine Art and geared our construction towards The Academy’s needs, namely studio spaces for students, a sculpture area and a life room

RR: To be able to do this, you must have a supportive family?

MJ: Yes. I am surrounded by family and friends that believe in me and my dreams. I have been blessed for 25 years with a wonderful husband, nicknamed MacGyver after the 1980s TV show. He has creative skills in fabricating something out of nothing. Along with Brian, my five kids have all helped in numerous ways spending hours cleaning, insulating, hanging drywall, etc. Most of the heavy construction was done by our “Monster Mill Men” and Brian. They are a wonderful group of friends that faithfully helped every week to bring the mill to the current level of renovation.

RR: What is the earliest age you remember enjoying art?

MJ: My grandfather framed a small drawing I did of him when I was five years old. I still treasure it. I always loved drawing, and when I won an art competition in the 6th grade beating all the 7th and 8th graders, I decided I wanted to pursue art as a career.

RR: Can you describe to the readers the curriculum of The Academy of Fine Art?

“Morning Light” by Molly Johnson

MJ: The Academy is dedicated to providing artists of all abilities the opportunity to improve their painting, drawing, and sculpting skills through time-tested exercises with a professional faculty. Students begin by copying plates, then move on to casts, still life and figures with charcoal, and then oil paints. Our full time students also attend three life classes a week with a nude model, and either sculpture or watercolor of the figure or portraiture once a week. All classes are offered full or part-time.

RR: Molly, do you miss teaching art in the elementary school level?

MJ: I am hoping not to sound bad, but no, not at this time. I loved teaching and creating with the young students but I was at a different point in my life. I was raising children, and being surrounded by them on a daily basis was normal. As I matured as an artist, I longed to be painting in my own studio and concentrating on my career as a professional artist. I am so lucky to have my studio in the mill with The Academy because I truly enjoy seeing the passion the students bring to the school.

RR: Why do you think art is an important part of every child’s education?

MJ: Whether it is visual, performing, literature, or interactive media, I think all children should have the opportunity to express themselves through art forms. Having this chance available at a young age can help them form their dreams and visions for their future.

“Tanya” by Molly Johnson

RR: If you could paint for one day with any living artist who would it be?

MJ: Richard Schmid. He would paint for us when I attended The Academy of Fine Art in Chicago in the ‘80s. I was studying watercolor and architectural rendering at the time and didn’t relate to his oil painting demonstration. Now I could kick myself for not paying more attention!

RR: How have you changed over the last five years?

MJ: Being a professional artist is not easy. I have had to become more assertive to advance my career by researching and applying for exhibitions, competitions, and teaching workshops. I have learned to network through social media and become more involved in many arts groups to promote myself. I have also started to discover what subject matter truly inspires me and learned that if you paint what you know and love it will show in your work.

RR: How would you describe your current work?

MJ: Reflective moment of time…thoughtful, quiet, comforting.

RR: What do you think is the future of fine art?

MJ: With the enrollment of The Academy tripling this fall, I would say more people are looking for established instruction to improve their art skills. This tells me there is an appreciation growing for traditional methods and practices, and, as these students progress and become professional artists this can only mean a stronger future for fine art.

RR: Thank you.

The Academy of Fine Art, which is hosting an open house October 12 from 4 – 6 pm, is located at 217 Broadway Street in Denmark. For more information about The Academy and Johnson’s artwork, call 920.362.4382 or visit