Behind the Scenes at Org & Relo - Meet Amy Johnson

I was born and raised in Michigan but probably the pivotal point of my life was when we relocated to Georgia when I was in the eighth grade. Talk about a culture shock! I was a northerner in a southern town, much more a tomboy than the hairspray and makeup drenched girls I now went to school with. The transition was rough--even though southern culture seems friendly, it takes a long time for people to open up.

 

I went to GSU for my freshman year. Atlanta’s a cool town, and I loved living in an apartment there, hanging out on weekends, hearing music and checking out the scene. Sophomore year I transferred to Boulder to go to CU. My brother had moved out here and when I visited him I fell in love with the area. I changed my major a million times and tried a bunch of different things: international studies, philosophy, kinesiology, until I landed in a two-year learning program at CU where a group of us took classes together and were required to do service learning trips. It was kind of like activist boot camp. We studied privilege, race, class, culture, sexuality--the whole nine yards. That really opened my eyes to some of the realities in the world, especially my own privilege.

Through that program, I lived in the homeless shelter in Denver, worked with the Navajo on their reservation in Arizona, and helped build a school and latrines in a small fishing village in Mexico. All along the way I was learning more and more about politics, culture, and oppression, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, forming my beliefs around my art.

I graduated with a degree in peace and conflict studies and went to work at the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. I organized a prisoner art show but I still wasn’t thinking of myself as an artist, more as someone into grass roots social change. In search of a diverse area that spoke more to my political and artistic desires, I headed for San Francisco. I didn’t have any luck finding a job in California but did land a three-month internship in upstate New York at a political artist retreat center. I thought I was headed back to San Fran when that ended but I passed through Boulder and as happens to so many... I ended up staying.

A friend had started Youth Envisioning Social Change (YES), an arts organization that catered to less privileged kids and encouraged creativity in their communities. I started working with them and, every once in a while, I’d bead a little bit. I made a bunch of bridesmaid necklaces for a friend and when I went into the bead shop for supplies I saw a girl wearing an incredible sterling silver ring. She told me about a school in Denver where she learned to make it, and I was hooked after one class. I decided I wanted to make jewelry that said something about my politics.

Not long after that a friend gave me a bunch of found bullet casings, and I realized I could use them in my work by intermixing them with twigs and other things from nature. I started making a jewelry line out of bullet casings and was eventually inspired to take a class at Front Range Community College. My teacher there told me that if I got my Master’s, she’d hire me to teach afterwards. I loved the course material and could see myself teaching it--plus a guaranteed job would be a relief--so I enrolled at CSU and got my MFA in metalsmithing. I now have two jewelry lines and am getting them into high fashion boutiques in this area as well as Seattle and San Fran. I work out of a home studio and also do large-scale political installations in addition to my smaller pieces. If you’re interested, you can check it all out here.

I started working for Sheryl soon after she started Org&Relo. Organization is intuitive to me. My home and studio are 700 square feet, so it’s a requirement. Living and working in such a small space I have to think about what I buy and what I keep--and where it all goes. When I go to an organizing job and the house is in complete disarray because someone’s moving, my favorite thing is to create systems. Everyone, including me, gets calmer when that happens. I’m a Virgo, and I like categories. And going from chaotic to organized is bizarrely satisfying to me. I like the feeling of helping people make positive changes in that way.

Thanks for reading,

Amy