MJC      Mary Johnson Consulting: Nature and Its Interpretations




The natural universe has always fascinated me; I have formally studied:

·         mineral structures and colors and crystal growing;

·         icy processes in ammonia-rich moons

·         volcanoes on Io and elemental distributions in the early solar system

·         light interacting with cut diamonds and fillings in gemstones.

Informally, I have a strong interest in art, and began drawing (tooth-like fish) when I was 18 months old.

I drew horses from grade school on, learned to paint in watercolors, acrylics and oils, and had some formal art training in 5th grade.

I designed clothes for a paper doll of mine when I was 12.

We had a dog and several cats when I was growing up, and I was promised a horse at 16 (although events prevented this happening).

And I grew up in the Sinclair-Oil age of Dinosaurs.


The art went “underground” as I became a scientist; but my class notes are illuminated with Icarus falling, with ornate dragons, with lions and horses, horses, horses.

My mentor and my mother died in 1995; between those events, my husband and I went to Alaska, and I brought back a shiny brown wolverine pelt.

            (I’m convinced Mark Vorkosigan is a wolverine.)

With dreams begin responsibility: I needed to learn all about these hairy rare weasels. Why was a pelt worth so much more than a wolfskin, even at the Copper River Roadhouse?


I went to Colombia and Hong Kong in 1998; between those events I neglected appendicitis for three weeks. Don’t do this -- I nearly died.

Morphine gave me vivid bad dreams and a sense of grandiosity. Recovering afterwards, I was struck with a huge sense of survivor guilt. Did I deserve to survive?

Wolverines, scrappy little survivors as they are, pulled me out of that funk. Since then, they have been totemic for me. They are not the nicest role models – they stink, they hoard, they do not respect the wishes or property of others – but they insist there is nothing to be guilty about in survival. I try to be more ethical than my stinky friends, and I have learned to draw them.


All these interests—and textures and colors and good zinfandel—make me a materialist, I suppose.

And art, like science, is a way to communicate what I see and hear and smell and touch in the world.

Ceramics and their glazes interpret minerals.

Pigments interpret the play of light and eye and mind.

Unexpected connections abound: between Chańcarcillo silvers and Childe Hassam flag paintings, between the way gravity and wind shape a tree trunk and music shapes a dance, between frustration and poetry, between mythology and science fiction and science fact and comic books; between okenite and velvet and pectolite and porcupine quills; between turquoise and the Navaho skies, or lapis and the high-altitude skies of the Himalayas. Between blue-ground kimberlite and blue sheep.

Between image and story.

Between how we want the world to be and how it is.

It’s heartbreaking, and it’s beautiful.


The American Museum of Natural History is a good model for this fascination:

·         Halls of Earth and Space

·         Minerals and Gems

·         Local woods and landscapes

·         The world’s most artistic natural history dioramas (Ralph Lauren’s inspiration)

·         Ethnographic halls interpreting the romance of other cultures

·         And sly humor (a flying carpet in Samarkand)


Zoo sketches

Other sketches