One of Johnni Dowhower’s earliest memories features a gentleman who would walk by her William Chrisman High School art class when its students were sketching buildings at the high school’s former site, just west of the Independence Square.
“My classmates and I would be sketching the buildings near our school, and a gentleman with a cane – who was usually accompanied by another elderly gentleman – would walk by and comment on our work,” said Dowhower, the featured artist this month at Art Squared, 111 North Main, on The Independence Square.
“He was quite complimentary and spoke to each one of us. It took a while before we realized the gentleman was President Truman. He would comment on everyone’s work of art. I don’t really remember when we realized it was President Truman. We just thought he was a nice man who enjoyed looking at what we were sketching.”
Her passion for art led to a 30-year teaching career in Iowa and Nebraska that culminated over the last two decades teaching in the Fort Osage School District.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle,” Dowhower said, as she sat inside the Art Squared studio that featured a wide variety of her work.
“Here I am, with my art featured at Art Squared, which is part of the Independence Art Association. We give scholarships to many area art students, and a portion of all our sales benefit the Art Association, so it’s nice to give back to something that has helped so many young art students.”
Unlike many Art Squared artists, who work in one medium, Dowhower uses whatever medium happens to be available at the moment of inspiration.
“Acrylic, oil, water color, photography, pastels, collages – you name it, I’ve tried it,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye, as her 10-year-old granddaughter Avery Thompson checks out her display with Dowhower’s daughter, Donelle Thompson, a former basketball standout at Fort Osage during the Dale Williams’ years.
“I enjoy making jewelry and wood working – if it’s art, and it’s creative, I’ll work with it. I don’t really have a favorite, although most of the pieces I have on display here are acrylic pieces.”
Dowhower’s inspiration often comes from the area she lives in outside of Sibley.
“I call it ‘Never, Never Land,’” she said. “The eagle in one of my paintings is an eagle that stopped for a while in a tree near my home. You never know what you’re going to see, what is going to inspire you, and I believe that’s what makes art so exciting.”
Some of the pieces on display, including one work of a guardian angel, are on loan from the individuals who have them hanging in their own homes.
“I don’t make sofa art,” she quipped, “I like to create something that means something special to the person who owns it. When I’m asked about my favorite piece of art, I say it’s a piece that is a favorite to the person who owns it.”
Following her 30-year teaching career, Dowhower now finds that she runs into former students throughout Eastern Jackson County.
“It’s so wonderful when I hear a voice say, ‘Mrs. D, you were my teacher at Fort Osage Middle School,’” she said gleefully. “I was in a Casey’s store the other day and ran into a former student and we talked for an hour.
“Those are the moments that make what I do so special.”