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Craig Johnson: Artist and Explorer

Anderson Artists Guild member Craig Johnson is a man of many talents and interests.

He grew up in Los Angeles dreaming of a career in aerospace medicine. He majored in cytogenetics at Northwestern University in Chicago. He later slogged through master’s degrees in hospital administration and industrial engineering at the University of Missouri before attending dental school in Alabama and then medical school in Oklahoma, Vermont, and Alabama. He also completed coursework for a doctorate in demographics and epidemiology. As often happens, life got in the way, things such as a presumptive diagnosis of multiple sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease and detached retinas. He never ended up practicing but did assorted kinds of interesting medical research.

His work included two years as a scientist in cardiovascular pharmacology at Northwestern University Medical School and two years figuring out how hormones regulate the growth of ovarian cancer tumor in the biochemistry department at the University of Missouri Medical School. His twelve years in the University of Alabama at Birmingham included several years as a system engineer figuring out how huge teaching hospitals work. He then did systems and application programming for a couple of years at Blue Cross of Alabama. He ended up in South Carolina when recruited by Anderson Memorial Hospital, where he worked for ten years doing outcomes research, medical informatics, and physician education. When he retired in 2000, he immediately boarded a ship for South America.

Since 2001, he has been free to pursue his many community interests. He has traveled to 62 countries; built nine houses for Habitat for Humanity; served as chief bottle washer, custodian, president and chief set builder for the Electric City Playhouse; immersed himself in the Foothills Writers Guild as president and coin counter and writer of two dozen books. And he has been flicking paint onto boards, paper and canvas with the Anderson Artists Guild.

One of his earliest artistic interests was photography, dating back to photographing DNA with high voltage electron microscopes in a lab at Northwestern in the early ‘70s. The inner structures of cells were just becoming visible with advances in technology, making for most interesting photos. He was also drawn by the scene out the window, where he studied snow formations and sunrises with black and white film and red filters.

The advent of digital photography led him to jump into photographic work big time. He now often uses his cell phone to take and edit pictures. “I do a lot of my editing on the phone because most people will see my pictures on the phone,” he said. “Color balancing is very different on a phone than on a computer. I have Photoshop in my phone and my phone has more control of images than my big cumbersome cameras and lens.” He has sold off some of his heavier gear and can now travel much lighter.

He likes shooting nature and old architecture and archeologically significant sites. One summer he romped with a group of professors over most of the prominent Mayan pyramids and sacred cities and came home with 9,800 images. A year ago, he caught a double rainbow over the ruins of Pompei at sunset. He sells much of his work through charity exhibitions at the Anderson YMCA and via his Facebook page.

He also restores old paintings, builds furniture out of entirely recycled waste wood found on the roads of Anderson County, and creates his own paintings. His most satisfying piece was the icon he created at the end of 2019, just before the world went dark. “It took three months and was like a prayer,” he said.

The corona virus pandemic has been a challenge, but it has given him plenty of time to write four books during the past year and get two into print already. One is called Flattening the Curve–Finding Peace in Pandemic. It had been an adjustment losing his opportunities to work in the Free Clinic dental unit, in the psychiatric hospital as a volunteer chaplain, as part of the theater community, and not having travelled anywhere for a year He did find time to get his heart replumbed after having a widow-maker heart attack in May while riding his bike at sunset. He rode his bike home, packed a bag, found his will and final papers, and called a guild member to haul him down to the hospital. He was back on his bike in five days.

He remains upbeat. His life mantra is “Beauty is a 100 percent renewable resource; the odds are 100% you will find it, if you look for it.”

For more information about Johnson, find him on Facebook at Craig Childress Johnson.


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