DOVER - When Dr. William Johnston and his wife, Susan, moved from Iowa to Dover four years ago, the transition wasn't as easy for Mrs. Johnston, a watercolor artist with more than 40 years' experience.
"My husband's career hit the ground running, but for my own reputation, I had to start over again," Mrs. Johnston said. "Nobody knew what I did (in Dover) and I had to re-establish myself as an artist."
And as the wife of a college president, it was also no surprise that her watercolor art would have to take a backseat to her work with Dr. Johnston and Wesley College.
And while she would never decline a sale - "all my paintings are for sale" - she said she's not as actively involved in the business side of things when it comes to her painting.
"I guess I approach it differently than most artists," Mrs. Johnston said. "For me, I present my work as poetry so people can enjoy it and experience it, not necessarily so that I can sell my painting."
But that's not to say her work hasn't been sold or enjoyed by the masses throughout the years.
Her watercolors have been accepted in regional and national shows where she has garnered numerous awards and her work is in public and private collections in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and West Virginia.
Mrs. Johnston's most current show, aptly titled "Object Poetry," is being exhibited throughout this month at the Dover Art League's Holden Gallery.
Mrs. Johnston said she is most excited to show off "Spring to Life," a painting she began as a demonstration at the Biggs Museum and finished shortly thereafter.
"It's very timely with the season and I'm really pleased with it," she said. "The other thing that I'm really, really thrilled about is the poetry reading."
Unique to the exhibition and in celebration of National Poetry Month, the show will partner with N. Taylor Collins and other writers for a special evening on April 25 from 5 to 7, where they will take their inspiration from Mrs. Johnston's watercolors and other works of art to create a visual dialogue and poetry readings.
Mrs. Johnston hasn't heard or read the pieces, but is very interested to hear what the writers have to say.
"Artists often wonder, how do people react when they see my work? People always have a different impression of the image than what you've tried to portray," she said. "The whole idea behind the emotional connection through poetry, to hear what is said will be really fascinating to me."
The show will contain several new pieces, many of which have been inspired by the places she has known, including Dover.
"My mother grew up in Dover so I have a lot of interest in the old buildings and the family stories," she said.
"Most artists, when they are looking for inspiration, they usually find it in the areas that they know best. My work has a lot of meaning for my family, which others might not recognize, but they are a tribute to the people I care about and love."
In addition to providing the ability to connect her past with her present, Mrs. Johnston said the process of producing a watercolor painting is "like a good friend to me."
"My husband is very busy with work with meetings and things, so I always have something to do," she said. "And when you're working on a painting with an interesting subject you want to explore it and know it better. That can be a very interesting challenge."
In April of last year, Mrs. Johnston presented a solo show on the Mezzanine at the Carvel State Building, in Wilmington through the Delaware Division of the Arts. In the fall of 2011, she was invited to present a solo show at Iowa Wesleyan College, in Mount Pleasant.
Since 2000, she has helped organize an international organization, "Journees de Peintures," which allows artists from England, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and the United States to join together once a year in a different country for a week of painting "en plein air" and fellowship.
In July 2011, the artists painted in the Val d' Anniviers, Switzerland. In July of this year, she will travel to Meissen, Germany.
Also, "Delaware by Hand" has given her "master" status and her work along with others was featured at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover from November 2011 through February of this year.
"It is a pipe dream of mine," Mrs. Johnston said about
being a working artist. "I wonder, can I actually do that?
But it's not something I can do right now, so I'm just thrilled to be in an exhibit and show where I can."
Mrs. Johnston said she strongly encourages the public to visit the Dover Art League for not only her show but any artist's show.
"I would encourage the public to always visit galleries and find that which they can connect to," she said. "Art is so wonderful and there is always something for everyone. It's an important part of helping children grow up because once they make the connection they are hooked for life."
Mrs. Johnston said art in all its beauty uplifts people, paving the way towards creating a kinder, gentler society.
"What's wrong with beauty, happiness and connecting to something bigger than all of us? Have fun and laugh and discover the joy of art. It can add another wonderful dimension to living life," she said.
The Dover Art League is at 21 W. Loockerman St between State and Bradford streets. For more information, call 674-0402 or visit www.doverartleague.com.