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 Marie Labes Johnson  (1906 - 1985)

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Lived/Active: Washington/Illinois      Known for: Painting, sculpture, printmaking, teaching

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Marie Labes Johnson was born in Chicago in 1906. She grew up in Chicago and graduated from Albany Park Dramatic School and the Chicago Art Institute. She was a dramatic art and fine art teacher for several years at the Lincoln Music School in Chicago.

In 1931, she moved with her parents and sister to Washington state and they settled in Walnut Manor, their home in Bellevue, where she set up her art studio in a log cabin at the back of the property. Her studio cabin was built without nails in the 1880s.

A press release photograph of her as she painted in her studio, with her horse, Lady Divine, looking in the door was featured in newspapers all over the country in 1934. Animals became a favorite subject for her oil and watercolor paintings. She painted at the 70 acre estate of Mr. And Mrs. Adolph Kietz, who imported rare birds and animals and kept them in their natural habitat. She also exhibited paintings of Mrs. James Clapp’s Mina bird, sheep at Marymoor Farm, buffalo painted in Banff, Canada, horses at the Olympic Riding Club and animals from Hollywood films of the time.

In 1934, the vice president of First National bank of Seattle, Seaboard Branch, congratulated her on the favorable notice and attention a poster of her artwork had received. The bank subscribed to a window display service with Elliot Service of New York, and they had sent a poster of her painting of her thoroughbred, Lady Divine, which was displayed in the window and admired by many.?

By this time she had become a member of Women Artists of Washington. Between 1939 and 1947 she she served as recording secretary, vice-president and as its President in 1946-47.
She exhibited her prize winning artwork in the Seattle Art Museum, the Little Gallery at Frederick and Nelson, the Bon Marche, the 19th Annual Exhibition of Northwest Printmakers, The Woessner Art Gallery at Cornish, the Yakima YWCA, the Henry Art Gallery, the Washington Athletic Club, the Frye Art Museum, Bellevue Square, the Grant Gallery in New York and other galleries. She worked for Disney Studios in the early 1940’s and painted several dogs at the Hollywood Dog Training School in L.A., including a portrait of Lana Turner’s cocker spaniel and “Buck” the dog who starred in Call of the Wild. She sat by Walt Disney at a screening of Fantasia.

She married Norton Johnson in 1946 and continued to paint. One of their favorite activities was to travel to the Pendleton Rodeo in Oregon. She created some woodblock prints of rodeo scenes. It was during this time of travel and enjoying the outdoors that she painted the Mount Baker Ski Lodge. She was meticulous in her studies of color and balance.  The Mount Baker Ski Lodge, a depiction of warmth and camaraderie at the dimly lit table after a day of skiing is a great example of her use of color and balance to set a mood. She painted many landscapes, small town historic houses and Seattle city scenes including Hooverville and the Smith Tower.

When her husband unexpectedly passed away, she supported herself and her son with her art career.?

She continued teaching art and drama at Edison Technical School, Cornish School and Seattle area high schools as well as from her own studio.

She demonstrated her watercolors in the first annual Pacific N.W. Arts and Crafts Fair in Bellevue, in September 1947. She was an enthusiastic supporter of this Arts and Crafts Fair and she originated the children’s corner, where she introduced children to art and patiently let them express their creativity. She remained active in the Bellevue and Seattle art community until her later years.

She passed away in 1985 and left us a beautiful legacy.

Written and submitted by Barbara Johnson, whose sources were Norrie Johnson, son of the artist, and various newspaper clippings that he saved.


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