Vernon P. Johnson was an accomplished watercolor artist who moved to Mount Vernon after World War II as a graphic designer with Shellmar Productions Corporation. In and around the 1950s he painted about 100 watercolors of Knox County scenes — from historical buildings, Main Street, the Square and the Knox County Fair to homes, New Gambier Road landscapes and Kenyon College landmarks.

Bio: Vernon P. Johnson (1918-2005) was born in New London, Ohio, and graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art and Case Western Reserve University in 1940. His painting, Tamozunchales, L.D., was an invited work in the Art Institute of Chicago’s Twentieth International Exhibition for a “representative” group of American watercolorists in 1941, and his works were also displayed in juried exhibits, including the May Show of the Cleveland Museum of Art and numerous shows in the Midwest and in Richmond, Virginia. After World War II, he settled in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where he began a career as a package designer in the burgeoning post-war consumer products industry. Vernon Johnson’s more than 100 watercolors during the 1950s documented the history and developing story of the life and values of small town America. Upon his retirement in Richmond, Virginia, he returned to fine art and established his business, Watercolors Unlimited.

In partnership with the Knox County Historical Society, The Artist’s Eye: Vernon P. Johnson’s Watercolors of 1950s Small Town America collects many of the artist’s most important works of this era and documents the enduring legacy of this transitional decade for communities across the U.S.

Author Janis Johnson, the artist’s daughter who was born in Mount Vernon and became a journalist and writer, takes us back to the 1950s using extensive family memorabilia and her father’s paintings, drawings, journals and writings. She returned to interview people who knew her family and to recapture the 1950s for Baby Boomers and their children and grandchildren.

Bio: Janis Johnson, the artist’s daughter, is a Baby Boomer who was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio. She has chronicled people and places in magazines such as Smithsonian and Humanities, and as a staff writer for The Washington Post and correspondent for USA Today, MiamiHerald, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe and International Herald Tribune. Her insider’s view uses original and historical material to document changing communities, landscapes and cultures, from the Irish Immigration and Willa Cather to Miami Beach Art Deco, school desegregation in Virginia and the byways of France and Italy. In the Introduction to Hollin Hills: Community of Vision in 2000, she described the enduring character of the award-winning 1950s-era neighborhood in Alexandria, Virginia. Janis Johnson is a consultant and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area and owner/principal of Johnson Consulting/Strategic Communications – www.jjohnsoncommunication.com.

19 Responses to About

  1. Mike Roberts says:


    Ran into Mary Alice Ward this weekend at our 45th (good grief) reunion and she asked me if I remembered you, but of course. At any rate, she told me of your new book detailing your father’s art. I must admit substantial ignorance until now, but the few paintings I have seen are indeed remarkable. Mt. Vernon was (and still is) a wonderful place. Hope all is well with you and yours and congratulations on the new book. I look forward to seeing it soon.

    Best regards,

    Mike Roberts

    • Hi, Mike, so nice to hear from you and keeping those 1950s connections alive. No dates, please, just a lot of “wisdom!” We early Baby Boomers have a lens on the world no other generation has — it was truly a transitional era. Thank you so much for your feedback on the book — you can read more in the Introduction about why and how I wrote it, and thanks, too, for spreading the word. Janis

  2. Jane Pilotti Wright says:

    Dear Janis,
    I, too, attended the MVHS reunion this past weekend and was so interested to hear news of you and your new book. Your father’s work is so meaningful to all those who have such fond memories of growing up in mid-century Mt. Vernon. It really captures the color and nostalgia of the time. It was wonderful seeing Mary Alice again, too. Congratulations on your book, Janis, and my best wishes to you and your family.
    Jane Pilotti Wright

    • Hi, Jane, such fun to hear from you! Thank you for being in touch. I’m so glad the book is faithfully capturing memories of the 1950s in Ohio. It’s striking how much attention is being paid lately to this “retro” period — perhaps as we Boomers grow up, our “roots” become even more valued. I look forward to hearing more stories from others who remember the special characteristics of that time. Janis

  3. John Mintier (MVHS 1962) says:

    Hi Mz Johnson:

    Was in the old hometown last week and a friend put me on to your book. It is a great blend of the beauty of the watercolors, your accounts of the people associated with them, and your dad’s remarks about painting them.

    I was moved by the account of Rob Florer and his life changing stay at the Accent House. It is the kind of strangers-helping-others-in-need event that I have heard remembered by others from Mount Vernon in that time.

    I hope to meet you at the signing in September in Paragraphs, a store that is still on MAIN Street–DOWNTOWN–next to Larry’s store.

    All the Best,

    John Mintier

    • John, thanks for your comments and memories. It is remarkable to experience the continuing “Main Street” feeling of Mount Vernon. The subject is motivating people to recall what those years were like in their small towns, whether Mount Vernon or elsewhere. As someone told me yesterday, “….and all the stores were named after a person or a family.” That’s exactly what you are saying here. Thanks for underscoring that. Looking forward to seeing you at the book signing! Janis

  4. Dann Goodson says:

    The memories are vivid and you’ve added color and another dimension. I will be in MTV on Thursday the 2nd visiting my Dad and hope to get a chance to say hello to you.


  5. Judy Reed Carpenter (MVHS '57) says:

    I thank you with all my heart for sharing the beautiful pictures and history of Mt. V. in “The Artist’s Eye.” My Dad, Don Reed, worked with your Dad at Shellmar in the Art Dept. Almost every page brought back memories – and happy tears. There are so many familiar names! I grew up with their kids! My sister, Jean Reed Stevenson sent me the book for my Birthday – and I promptly asked her to send 3 more copies so I can share the memories with my 3 sons and their families!

    • Judy, what a beautiful sentiment! It has been so rewarding to connect with all the Shellmar families. There are so many happy memories of that small town. Thank you for your support of this project.

  6. Laureene Schmidt Bollinger says:

    I just received a copy of The Artist’s Eye from a friend in Mt Vernon. Both my husband and I are enjoying it as we each know Mt Vernon well, not leaving until 1986.
    I was especially surprised to see my image in the birthday party picture, second from the right. Do you know all the names? Thanks for the memories.

  7. janis johnson. I have recently acquired ( following the death of my mother) a piece of art created by your father in 1958. And although it is a beautiful a piece, it’s not my style. It is a watercolor depicting a scene in I believe burma or india. There is a rickshaw(sp), sacred cow (brahma bull), a thirties style automobile, and an english carraige incorporated into the work. It shows a major arterial with hotels, shops, and hundreds of people all going about their business. It truly is a fine work. I am interested in selling it if you or any of your vernon johnson appreciators are of a mind to inquire or purchase. I can e- you a photo with a close-up of the signature and date. You can call me at 1-707-927-8877. Thank you very much your time, and I look forward to hearing from you. keith mckimmie

  8. Steve Root says:


    I was visiting my mother in Northern Ohio, and she had a copy of the wonderful book of your Dad’s work. She grew up in New London, Ohio, in the house next door to where your Dad lived. I am certain that New London had many of the same qualities that your Dad saw (and beautifully recorded) in Mt. Vernon. She had some memories of your Dad (he was I think five or so years older than she).

    I was particularly attracted to the watercolor of the Russell House. I am a sucker for Greek Revival houses, and that one is near to perfection (in your Dad’s vision of it). Is that picture posted on-line anywhere?

    Steve Root
    New London, New Hampshire

    • Hi, Steve, thank you so much for your comments and interest! Greek Revival houses certainly are prevalent in Ohio and small towns like Mount Vernon. Currently that painting is not posted online but perhaps will be as I update the blog. Wonderful to hear news of New London! Janis

  9. John Mintier (MVHS 1962) says:

    HI Janis:
    I am visting my 97 year old mother near Detroit and brought the book with me. She is 90% blind but I showed her the Accent House and when she recalled it she told me that she knew the lady who lived. She worked with Ms Congdon as an election judge at the high school, and she knew the boy she took in. I was thrilled.

    I’d like to have you chat with Mother if possible. I’ll be here tomorrow, but will be back next month again, and every month thereafter. Call me if you can 847 894 2059.

    John Mintier

  10. Pat Talley Newbold says:

    Many years ago I purchased a lovely watercolor by your father. It is called Blue Ridge Gold. I would love to know more about this painting. I can’t quite make out the date on it; possibly 1964.
    I’ll look forward to seeing your book.

    Pat Talley Newbold
    Black Mountain, NC

    • Thank you so much for letting me know about the painting’s whereabouts! Yes, in 1964, my father painted that watercolor. I have some of the early versions but am pleased to hear that you have the final. “Blue Ridge Gold” was reproduced subsequently as a frameable 8.5×11″ lithograph for a promotional mailing by Package Products Co. in Charlotte, NC, where my father then worked as Director of Design. The scene is a hard maple grove in the Blue Ridge Mountains just west of Charlotte. I still have a handful of the lithographs should anyone be interested in them.

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