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Sylvia Martinez Johnson
 
Sylvia Martinez-Johnson is an amazingly multi-talented artist  much like a fountain happily bubbling with creativity.

She finds humor and pleasure in her everyday life, and translates favorite aspects into wonderful folk art pieces: charming paintings depicting colorful Southwest traditions, beautiful religious crosses and altar screens, and heavenly painted wood angels we want for personal guardians.

Sylvia's own cultural background is as diverse as her art; her mother was from Newfoundland, Canada, and her father was a fourth generation native of northern New Mexico. They met and married while he was serving in the U.S. Army, and he sent her to Dixon, New Mexico so his family could care for her while he was away on duty. "My mother got off the train in Lamy and saw round brown dots - vigas - sticking out of the buildings. She thought they were really strange, but fell in love with her husband's family and the New Mexico sunshine." Sylvia's mother learned to speak Spanish so she could converse with her in-laws. They had five children, Sylvia being the second oldest, and raised their family in the Dixon and Los Alamos, New Mexico areas.

While living in Los Alamos, Sylvia's passion for art was inspired by a neighbor. "Ann Mills, an incredible fiber artist, was across the street. She'd get her children and us to make a doll house out of jar lids and fabric scraps. That's where I learned the joy of art."

After she married and became pregnant, Sylvia turned that childhood joy into making fabulous "paintings" of fabric applique' portraying scenes of fun-filled places and events she had attended: Indian Market and the Pet Parade in Santa Fe, a pinata party, an interior of a trading post, and more. She is basically a self-taught artist, including sewing. "Teaching myself to sew was a long, hard process, but I was determined." Her two-dimensional fabric creations evolved into three-dimensional, including a vivid red and gold fabric miniature carousel, complete with children merrily riding a rooster, a curvy snake, and a cow!

In 1990, persuaded by the owners of Cristof's Gallery, Sylvia tried her hand at painting. Not surprisingly, her first piece - a scene of the Santa Fe Plaza, in acrylic paints on canvas - won first place in that years Santa Fe Poster Contest. This success encouraged Sylvia to focus on using paints rather than fabrics to express her memories and visions. She decided she liked the jeweltone effect which could be achieved with oil paints, and asked her dear friend and noted fellow artist, Diana Bryer, to teach her to work with the oils to produce rich, clear colors.

Since the age of 30, Sylvia has been a devoted student of the Holy Bible, inspired especially by the Book of Revelations. In 1994, she began using her personal interpretations of the Bible to paint religious scenes. Two years later, she studied the 14-step process of icon "writing" from the renowned Russian iconographer, Vladislav Andreyev, learning such traditional methods as bole-clay gold leafing and painting with egg temperas. Although she was an excellent student, Sylvia finds the process of icon writing too restricting, so prefers to apply some of the techniques she learned to create her own style of beautiful religious portraits. Master tinworker Albert Delgado was so impressed with Sylvia's artistic talent and sincere desire to learn that he taught her the basics of working with metal.

Sylvia finds great joy in embellishing her works with various materials, from genuine diamond dust to gemstone cabochons and mother-of-pearl. "I love glittery things!" she says, laughing.

From her home high in the mountains of rural northern New Mexico, Sylvia now incorporates a mixture of techniques - both Old World and contemporary - to make glorious altar screens, crosses, Southwest paintings, and more. Her pieces are folk art at its finest: an intriguing blend of naive simplicity and master craftsmanship. And we are enchanted...

 
 
 
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