The husky, grey haired former naval officer is using his memories of the sea to supply subjects for the painting he does while studying at the Academy of Art, 65 Clinton Street.
Pictures on Display ... His instructors at the art school say he has shown great ability in translating ships and the sea onto canvas. They have a dozen of his oil paintings on display at the academy. "I've always liked to draw," Johnson said the other day. "When I was a youngster I used to be making sketches in the back of the book when I was supposed to be studying navigation. But this is my first serious try at painting." Johnson hopes he can sell some of his work. "Id love to buy a small boat," he said. He pointed to a painting of a four-masted bark which he is completing.
His First Ship ... "That's the Dirigo, the first ship I sailed on," he said. "I was a kid from Boston who had studied for two years at the Massachusetts Nautical School. I shipped on the Dirigo from Baltimore around Cape Horn to Seattle. We were at sea five months."
"Jack London was on that cruise," Johnson said. "He used that voyage as the background for one of his books, Mutiny on the Elsinore. There was no mutiny, of course. But he did use members of the crew as characters. I'm in it as Henry, the training ship boy. He killed me off in the story.
Johnson went on to a career in the merchant marine. He was the third mate of a ship that was torpedoed outside of Liverpool in World War I. When he got back to New York three months later, he went to the U.S. Navy as an ensign. He put in tow years of duty on transports carrying troops to France and wound up as a lieutenant.
Decided on Change ..."Then I decided to quit going to sea." Johnson said. "I thought then maybe I'd try painting. I wanted to be a commercial artist but instead I got into textile designing and went to work for a New York firm."
In World War II Johnson went back into the Navy as a lieutenant. He served two years in the South Pacific in various assignments including executive officer of a receiving station at Noumea, New Caledonia, and the commander of a survivors' camp for Navy men whose ships had been sunk.
After his tour in uniform Johnson served as chief of police at the navy Base at Edgewater. "When that job ended, I decided to go to school under the GI Bill and really learn to paint," he said. Johnson has used his painting skill to do several murals for the walls of his home in Princeton avenue in Metedeconk.