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As a child growing up in Simpsonville, Marilyn Johnson always knew she wanted to be an artist, even before she got her first easel and oil paints when she was 12 years old.
“We had no television, so I spent a lot of my time making things,” she said. “My daddy taught me to make fishing lures from feathers, my mama taught me to sew, my grandfather let me whittle on wood and my grandmother tried to teach me to cook.”
Now, at age 74, Marilyn Johnson Hertz still runs a thriving art business, Marilyn Johnson Designs in Santa Fe, N.M., where she moved in 2010 from Memphis, Tenn., where she and her husband, Charles, moved after they were married.
But art wasn’t her first profession, despite earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Art from Western Kentucky University.
Hertz spent the early years of her marriage teaching school, using her double minor in English and home economics.
“The consensus of my family was that artists, especially women, could not make a living doing art,” she said.
But she made sure that point of view wasn’t passed on to her daughter, who is also an artist in the Santa Fe area.
Hertz’s sister, Maxine Robinson, who still lives in Shelby County, laughed when asked if artistic ability ran in the family.
“Heavens, no,” she said. “I have done a little painting, but it was just a hobby. What I like to do is work in the yard with my flowers,” she said. “Marilyn and Gwen, they are the artists in the family.”
While teaching in Tennessee, Hertz began reaching out into the art world with a wide variety of projects, and she quickly found out that she was talented enough to make a living in art.
“There were jobs painting murals, doing sculpture, teaching art, painting billboards and my many years of painting portraits,” she said. “I also had ten prints that sold nationwide, some of which were made into greeting cards, puzzles, and needlepoint.”
That success served as a model for her daughter, Gwen Hertz Ricard.
Ricard, who earned a bachelor’s in fine arts from the Memphis College of Art in 1992, credits her mother with leading her to her life’s work.
“The encouragement I received from my mother, and the inspiration to follow in her footsteps, nurtured my desire to become an artist,” she said.
Hertz said her successful career as an artist came full circle when she moved to Santa Fe to be near her daughter. Ricard, who focuses on Batiks, an ancient technique of painting on fabric using hot liquid wax and special brushes and stamps, had already established an art studio, Trace Creek Designs.
“We have worked together over the years in many different areas. And to be able to collaborate on paintings, Batiks, and fabrics with her is pretty cool,” Hertz said.
And most recently the two have collaborated on putting her artwork on greeting cards.
Living and working in Santa Fe has been blessing, Hertz said, and her art has continued to grow and expand.
“My work is an accumulation of all that has come before,” she said. “I still work in many different mediums, such as painting, sculpture, linoleum cuts, printmaking and fabrics. For the past twenty years, the art of Shibori has been a fascinating area of work for me.”
Shibori is a Japanese art of dyeing fabric, mostly silk, a technique that Hertz said has influenced her recent paintings.
But as her influences and work have continued to grow in the Southwest, she said being near family has been the best part of moving to Santa Fe. Spending time with her granddaughter, Emily, and working with Ricard on projects has proven priceless.
“It’s especially nice that we are best friends,” she said.
You can see more of their work on Ricard’s Web site,tracecreek.com, and Hertz can be reached at her studio at in Santa Fe at 505-699-2120.
Full name:Marilyn Johnson Hertz
Education:Simpsonville High School, Western Kentucky University, bachelor’s degree in art
Now Lives:Santa Fe, New Mexico
Family:Husband, Charles Hertz, daughter Gwen Ricard, and granddaughter, Emily, sister Maxine Robinson, parents, the late Frank and Stella Mae Johnson
About the series
The Sentinel-News will profile Shelby County natives and former residents who have established businesses elsewhere. If you have a suggestion for someone to be considered, send in an E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.