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posted: 6/9/2013 5:41 AM

Geneva man rekindles his first passion: Art

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  • Artist Larry Johnson in his LK Johnson Studio and gallery in Geneva with bronze piece titled, "Prayer Memorial for the Souls of Terezin." Johnson retired from IBM and went back to what he studied in college -- sculpting. His studio's grand opening will be July 19-20.

      Artist Larry Johnson in his LK Johnson Studio and gallery in Geneva with bronze piece titled, "Prayer Memorial for the Souls of Terezin." Johnson retired from IBM and went back to what he studied in college -- sculpting. His studio's grand opening will be July 19-20.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


Larry Johnson's passion for life is far easier to express in his new art studio in Geneva than it may have been during his 31 years as an IBM executive.

So how does a young man with a master's degree in fine arts -- with an emphasis on sculpture -- end up working at IBM?

"That's a good question," said the 62-year-old Johnson, of Geneva, a retired director of global services for IBM.

Johnson was seeking a teaching position in Peoria after earning his master's degree at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale in 1978. He wasn't having any luck, so he decided to apply at IBM. The company liked the accomplishments on his resume and hired him.

Rather than teaching art, Johnson sold IBM contracts and dreamed about being a sculptor. When he retired in 2010, he knew it was time to go back to his first love -- creating works of art and busts through the clay, oils and bronze of modern sculpture.

Johnson kept creating sculptures as a side hobby during his first 10 years at IBM, but when he and his wife, Geneva High School counselor Mary Jane Johnson, had a son, the sculpturing took a back seat.

"I didn't want it to just be a hobby at that point; I knew that when I was able to, I would pursue this passion," Johnson said.

He has done just that, with LK Johnson Studio, at 409 Stevens St.

He's planning his first studio show, "Continuum," July 19-20, and he's hoping to draw the attention of art lovers and, especially, professional art critics.

"I would like to know what they like and don't like," Johnson said.

"Continuum" gets its name from what Johnson sees as the progression of his work, from when he started in college until he stopped while raising his son, through to his current work.

"My sculptures have classical and, in some cases, spiritual overtones," Johnson said. "People tend to interpret sculptures in different ways."

Ultimately, Johnson hopes to continue placements of his art, and he's done pretty well up to this point.

He has pieces at the archbishop's residence in Toronto; the Naperville Bank; Mercy Hospital in Aurora; St. Mark's Church in Peoria; St. Bede Academy in Peru, Ill.; Franco Gallo in Milan, Italy; and in numerous private collections.

Mostly, Johnson is looking to relate his sculptures to life. "You are defining and searching for elements of life when creating sculptures," he said.

In his mind, that search begins in earnest with "Continuum" in his Geneva studio.

A real egghead: Speaking of sculptures, last week I mentioned the great display at Mount St. Mary Park in St. Charles. Here are a couple of pieces that caught my eye.

"Mr. Eggwards" sits smiling atop the brick wall that was once part of the underpass from Mount St. Mary High School to the park, where young girls from the school had outdoor gym classes.

In true Humpty-Dumpty fashion sitting on a wall, "Mr. Eggwards," a sculpture by Kimber Fiebiger of Minneapolis, is a fun place to take a family picture.

"Sympatico," featuring a dog and child, is another interesting attention-grabber, sculpted through Pokey Park in Tucson, Ariz.

Weather 'luck' factor: Like any other part of the Midwest, the Tri-Cities' community festival season relies heavily on weather "luck." That means event organizers spend countless hours planning, knowing all along in the back of their minds that a bout of lousy weather can ruin all of that planning.

Geneva's Festival of the Vine stands out as one event that was completely washed out by rain a few years ago.

The St. Charles Arts Festival has faced rugged weather in the past, but this year's event got by on Memorial Day weekend facing only chilly and damp weather.

This weekend's St. Charles RiverFest has had pretty decent weather more often than not, it seems. But there was some rain forecast for at least parts of it, as of this writing.

Swedish Days operates over six days in Geneva, so it's bound to get hot weather or storms. About 20 years ago, we ran to our cars on the opening night of Swedish Days with the tornado sirens blaring.

Windmill City Days in Batavia seemed to have the worst luck for the longest time, with blistering heat in its mid-July time slot.

Scarecrow Festival in St. Charles has probably been the luckiest, but people expect more stable weather in October.

So, it's a matter of planning -- and keeping your fingers crossed -- when it comes to community festivals.

A great burger: Many of my friends consider Stockholm's brew pub in downtown Geneva their favorite bar and grill. It's pretty easy to see why -- the food is great.

I stopped in for a burger at Stockholm's last week and made a great choice with the Caesar Burger. That's a delicious hamburger on flat bread with Caesar salad toppings and caramelized onions.

Terrific gesture: Arcada Theatre owner Ron Onesti did a great thing last week in providing the historic downtown theater for the Thompson Middle School graduation.

More than 120 graduates and their families enjoyed the graduation ceremony at the theater, as Onesti offered the site after hearing the class was not going to have a school-sponsored graduation. One of the parents, Linda Breen, worked with Onesti for a few months to make sure the students and their families had a memorable night.

Onesti told the graduates their eight years in school had a special meaning to him, considering it has been eight years since he took over the Arcada.

Not-so-terrific gesture: If the Rev. Martins Emeh, pastor of St. Peter Church in Geneva, was looking to make friends and influence people, he earned a failing grade last week in the eyes of many parents with kids at St. Peter School.

Emeh gave popular principal Roseann Feldmann her walking papers on the last day of school. Parents and principal Feldmann could express sadness and displeasure, but Emeh, like the leader of any operation, has to be careful what he says about any personnel matters. So his reasons may never be known.

It makes it all the more difficult for disappointed parents to accept what has happened at their school.

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