Our Towns

Johnson Donates 4th of July Mural to Canfield

CANFIELD, Ohio – As Sarah Keeler, district director for U.S. Rep Bill Johnson, read aloud a proclamation Friday in honor of attorney Nils P. Johnson, her 2-year-old son, Ryan, dashed across City Council chambers to the mural standing behind her.

He then put his hand on the mural, where he recognized the image of himself that Nils Johnson painted.

It goes without saying that the junior Keeler won the room.

“The challenge when you’re painting people is it’s got to look like them, plus it’s got to say something about them. I tried to do that and I think it worked,” the Canfield attorney said – as Ryan Keeler’s action affirmed.

The ceremony at Canfield City Hall marked the completion of the mural depicting the city’s annual Fourth of July celebration and the donation of the painting to Canfield by the Nils and Janet Johnson Foundation, which was founded by Nils P. Johnson’s parents.

“Much art and passion has gone into this work of art, and our city of Canfield is honored and proud to be the recipient of this labor of love,” Mayor Richard Duffett said.

Johnson, owner and partner of Johnson & Johnson Law Firm in Canfield, started work on the nine-foot mural in May at Smarts Community Art School in downtown Youngstown, where he serves as its artist-in-residence. The painting took 400 hours to create, he said.

“The reality is that the arts do more than just entertain. They enlighten and they make a real impact both economically and in terms of their cultural enlightenment,” said Lou Zona, executive director of the Butler Institute of American Art. Artists like Johnson “remind us that the arts are also a source of pride to a community. Canfield is that much richer thanks to this wonderful achievement.”

“I tried to encapsulate and suggest small-town life,” Johnson said. “I was interested in showing not only the parade but how the spectators were interacting around the parade.”

In addition to familiar landmarks like the Gazebo on the Green, the township hall and the courthouse, the painting features Councilman Bruce Neff, former Mayor Bill Kay and township trustee Marie Cartwright.

Other figures depicted in the painting include members of Johnson’s family – his wife, Kathy, and his seven-year-old grandson, Remington Phillips, both of whom were at Friday’s unveiling; and several nieces and nephews.

“The mural has a lot of Canfield values and a lot of residents in it,” said attorney Molly Johnson, who is in practice with her father and is Remington’s mother. She and her brother, Niles Peter Johnson, attended the event as well.

At the family’s request, the mural will be displayed at various venues in the city and Canfield Township, she reported.

Nils Johnson said he hopes to “kick start” art awareness in the city. The family foundation will donate $1,000 as seed money for an art festival to take place next summer, he said.

As a follow-up project, a potential painting for the YMCA of Youngstown is being discussed.

But not right away.

“I’ve got to rest,” Johnson said. “That was 400 hours.”

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Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.