Angela Johnson: Finding Meaning in Memory

By Katie Vaughn | Photography by Hillary Schave

Years ago while she was a graduate student, Angela Johnson helped her aunt organize family photos. Seeing images of her dad as a child, great-grandparents she never met and relatives who looked like her struck a chord — one that would carry through her work as an artist, educator and creativity coach.

Johnson grew up in Madison, leaving the city to attend Coe College and work as an art teacher in Houston, before returning to earn a master’s degree in art education and an MFA with a focus on photography at UW–Madison.

In a job at the Madison’s Children’s Museum, the concept of memory grew in significance, especially when Johnson led SPARK!, an innovative program that provides art workshops for adults with memory loss and their care partners. And it continued with “Inherent Legacy,” her MFA exhibition at the Madison Public Library’s Central branch. Featuring family photographs and artifacts alongside her own photography, the show explored “what we carry with us through the objects we inherit from previous generations, including genetic, physical and emotional traits.”

More recently, Johnson’s work has included gratitude journal kits for the library, as well as legacy boxes and memory books, highly personal objects she helps others create to honor loved ones and experiences.

And the pandemic years offered opportunity for further growth. Johnson held a residency at the Peninsula School of Art in Door County, served as an artist-in-residence at the Madison Public Library’s Pinney Branch and created “Nature is Healing” at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, with 75 cyanotype panels allowing viewers to contemplate life cycles and impermanence.

Johnson also became a certified creativity coach, and now works with individuals and organizations to help them access their artistic sides and get unstuck. “I’m working with a forward focus to assist and enable others to find creativity in themselves,” she says. She’s excited to continue this work, along with teaching courses in the UW-Madison Art Department and Edgewood College, hosting workshops at the Madison Public Library (including a book club on creativity at the Central branch) and leading workshops at the Peninsula School of Art this summer. She has her own projects in the works too, and it all adds up to a creative mix she enjoys.

“I 1,000% feel like I’ve carved my own space,” she says. “It’s taken years of thoughtful practice — and also the pandemic.”, @angelajohnsonartist

Read more artists’ stories in Portraits of Creativity here.

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