Tuesday, June 21, 2005

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The Halifax Herald Limited


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JIM MacDONALD
Artist Denise Johnson stands beside a hanging window at St. Francis Xavier University on Monday. The window, which she made out of out of recycled glass, will be part of an exhibit at a conference on happiness and development.

The fine art of dealing with garbage
One person's trash is another's inspiration at happiness meeting

By JIM MacDONALD

ANTIGONISH - Most artists would be offended if somebody were to refer to their work as garbage.

But not Denise Johnson. In fact, she views the term as an accurate description.

The Lunenburg County woman started transforming junk into eye-catching pieces of art 10 years ago when she was a single mother living in Halifax who was tight on funds but fueled by a desire to express a creative side.

"I used to take my son in the stroller and just comb the city streets looking for materials, so I noticed how much stuff was being thrown out," she said.

Over the next few days, Ms. Johnson's work will be a staple attraction in an exhibit at the St. F. X. Art Gallery running in conjunction with The Second International Conference on Gross Happiness.

The purpose of the four-day event is to challenge traditional development and measuring ways that define happiness.

For this to occur, workshops and seminars will address four key elements, including environmental preservation, sustainable economic development, cultural promotion and good governance.

The conference seems tailor-made for Ms. Johnson, whose message draws attention to society's tendency to discard items they feel lack value, all in the pursuit of happiness.

"A lot of people experience a great unhappiness, so they think that by getting new things all the time that somehow they're going to be happy," she said. "In the process, they throw things away - their family, their friends, their garbage, even their precious items. They just figure it's old and therefore get rid of it.

"Really, there's beauty to be found in these things, we just need to view them in a new way. And I feel like that's my gift - to see beauty where other people don't see it."

The items Ms. Johnson contributed to the exhibit showcase her work in glass windows, which has been her focus for the past six years.

Ms. Johnson has developed a style she refers to as "jigsaw mosaic," in which she incorporates various patterns and broken glass into her work.

"My own personal experience with working with (glass) is it's very uplifting and inspiring, so I was hoping to inspire people with garbage," she said.

The work has become an effort Ms. Johnson shares with her family. Her husband, Rory Munroe, refurbishes the wood that frames the glass art, and their three children lend a hand in finding the material being salvaged.


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Copyright 2005 The Halifax Herald Limited