Martha Ensign Johnson
What ails the hemlocks?, copperplate etching, 12.5″ x 12.5″, 2019
What is being eroded?, multiplate copperplate etching, 12.5″ x 12.5″, 2019
What are we stripping away?, zinc etching, 12.5″ x 12.5″, 2019
Is this ‘stabilizing’?, multiplate etching, 12.5″ x 12.5″, 2019
A landmark removed, woodcut, copperplate etching, and chine colle, 12.5″ x 12.5″, 2019
Do the clouds remember the mountain?, woodcut, copperplate etching and chine colle, 12.5″ x 12.5″, 2019
What is happening to our mountains? (Erasure Series), 28″ x 45″, 2019
Process Note: The artist, whose primary medium is etching, uses the full panoply of printmaking techniques, including not only the media noted in the captions above but also spit bite aquatint, aquatint, and reductive etching. (To better understand these terms, see the glossary of printmaking terms.) All of the individual prints seen here are the same size. The plates and woodblocks are 12″x 12″, which makes the image size, including title and signature, 12.5″ x 12.5″. The Magnani paper on which the works are printed, is sized 15″ x 22″. The woodcut used in this series is made from a piece of local ash that had been destroyed by the invasive emerald ash borer.
The Erasure series is ongoing, as is its companion series Residue. I see residue as what we carry with us, what clings to us, and erasure as what we willfully or even unwillingly erase from memory.
I began the Erasure series with prints dealing with leaving academia after years of teaching college and with how quickly one is erased from that community. The series also has encompassed our need to rewrite history on a personal as well as cultural or corporate level. My research on environmental destruction uncovers multiple layers of erasure.
Moving home to my birth state after decades of absence led to shock at the erasure of landmarks of my childhood. Much of my family’s land and homes lies under interstates. Mountains that shaded treasured memorable events are simply not there.
At this point in my work I am trying to avoid being too locally specific or personal. Though the work deals with specific issues I have researched, I recognize that these issues are not just local but are global. Thus, an image of a dying forest is locally the die-off of hemlocks caused by the invasion of a non-native insect, the woolly aegid; elsewhere on the planet, it is other trees and other non-native causes. These dying forests lead to erosion, as do strip mining and other radical cuttings of Earth’s forests, which lead back on a broader level to the question, “What are we erasing?” One response is implicit in my favorite title of the series: “Do the clouds remember the mountains?” The answer, however, is actually multiple answers: on one level, the answer is, “Of course not” but, in reality, removing a mountain does change the weather, the light, and, radically, what can or cannot be grown on neighboring farms.
About the Artist
A resident of Black Mountain, North Carolina, Martha Ensign Johnson, holds a bachelor’s degree in visual arts, with honors, from Eckerd College (formerly, Florida Presbyterian College), in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has studied and worked at the Santa Reparata Graphic Art Center, in Florence, Italy, and has conducted research on Romanesque art and architecture in France.
Martha Ensign Johnson first showed her work in 1975. Since then, she has participated in numerous group and solo exhibitions in museums and galleries, arts festivals and print fairs, and printmaking competitions in cities throughout the United States, including Richmond, Virginia; Chicago, Illinois; Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Muskegon, Michigan; Bloomington and Minneapolis, Minnesota; Grand Forks, North Dakota; and Santa Barbara, California. She also has shown abroad, in Bergen, Kristiansand, Oslo, and Stavanger, Norway.
Widely honored, Martha Ensign Johnson has work in the permanent collections of Phillip Morris (Altria Group), in Richmond, Virginia; Westmont Museum of Art in Santa Barbara, California; and Tippecanoe County Courthouse, in Lafayette, Indiana.
In addition to being a lecturer and the recipient of a number of instructional grants, Martha Ensign Johnson has taught printmaking, painting, paper-making, and bookbinding in workshops for children and teenagers in schools in Michigan and Minnesota. She also has taught printmaking at both Northwestern College, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California. She has taught abroad at Ubak Academy, in the Congo (formerly, Zaire), and Myren Print Studio, in Kristiansand, Norway.
Martha Ensign Johnson’s work was exhibited in “Networks” at Star Fangled Press, a printmaking studio, gallery, and storefront in Brevard, North Carolina, in March and April, 2019. It can be seen in “Praise of Shadows” at the Asheville Area Arts Council, Asheville, North Carolina, at the end of 2019; and in “Natural Impressions” at the North Carolina Arboretum, Asheville, in January 2020. All are group shows with Asheville Printmakers.