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Torches, several distinctive kilns, walls of glass tubes varying in color and purpose, endless strands of chained silver, rough etchings of vibrant ideas and a plethora of beads composed in intriguing shapes and textures. This isn’t an elaborate art studio. This is the basement of local artist and teacher Beth Wenger Johnstone.
Johnstone, an Appleton resident, designs lamp work style glass pieces and jewelry and has been perfecting her craft for nearly two decades.
“I'm kind of lucky to have this space...well, not kind of lucky I'm really lucky,” Johnstone says. “This was just an old store room and I've had this area setup for this since the mid ’90s.”
Growing up in a creative family, graduating with a BFA in graphic design from the University of Illinois and later co-owning an Appleton-based graphic design firm, Johnstone has spent her life surrounded by art and design. It wasn’t until she took a glass blowing class that she eventually immersed herself completely in her craft.
“I used to go to a Unitarian church and they'd have a service auction every year and one of the guys was a scientific glass blower,” Johnstone says. “He auctioned off a day of marble making, but we ended up making beads instead. About five years after that I finally got into it.”
Johnstone’s work can be found in places like Avenue Art on College Avenue in Appleton, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Appleton, Fine Line Designs Gallery in Door County and the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah where she also teaches introductory and intermediate classes.
“I teach flame working at Bergstrom-Mahler, but I also teach at the Renaissance School for the Arts where I do wire work and advertising,” Johnstone says. “I love teaching the classes. It's fun to share what you know.”
Johnstone can also be found sharing her work at a number of different art shows including shows at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan and the Harley-Davidson museum in Milwaukee. There’s a real science to the jewelry and beads that Johnstone designs, but there are times when a piece comes together that is more for her own enjoyment than anything else.
“Sometimes art is making something no one will wear, it's just for fun,” Johnstone says holding up a necklace adorned with an innumerable amount of beads. “I mean, who could wear that? You'd have a headache in fifteen minutes.”
Over the spring Johnstone plans to continue her teaching and work on more elaborate work that she has already begun to plan out.
“I’m not a good ‘sit and do nothing’ kind of person,” Johnstone says. “It fulfills that need for me. I love it when I come up with something new that I really like. Sometimes it's somebody else who really likes it too, but sometimes it’s just okay for me to like it.”
—By Andrew Scholz
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