Beth Wenger Johnstone has participated in a life-long relationship with art, from art school and a career in graphic design to her artsy hobbies. Her experiences have made her an artist of many mediums—glass, metal, paper, clay, and even soaps and lotions.
Wenger Johnstone attributes the spark to her family. “I come from a family of DIYs, do-it-yourselfers, so it’s always about finding something you like and figuring out how to do it yourself,” she says.
She focuses primarily on glass beads and wire jewelry, a passion she picked up in the mid-’90s when she took her first bead-making class. “It took me a few more years after that to kind of work up the nerve to work with the equipment, because you’re working with tanks of oxygen and propane and torches,” she says.
Her studio has now found a permanent spot in the basement of her Appleton home. Cubbies of colored glass rods and boxes of craft supplies surround the workbench where she molds glass, often while listening to music. “I really enjoy it,” she says. “It’s very relaxing.”
Wenger Johnstone’s glass work takes many shapes and a rainbow of colors. From flora and fauna to eyeball pendants she calls “eye pods,” her body of work displays whimsy that is delightful and at times surprising. “I want it to look like a fantasy. I want them to be fun and kind of silly rather than serious and accurate,” she says. “But I like people to be able to touch them. I just think that there’s a real tactile element to this.”
A hands-on experience is especially important as she teaches art classes at Renaissance School for the Arts in Appleton and The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass in Neenah.
“The Bergstrom has a beautiful studio. It’s kind of one of those hidden secrets that I wish more people knew about,” she says. I’ve taken lots and lots of classes and it’s probably one of the best glass studios I’ve been in.”
As cold weather approaches, Wenger Johnstone prepares for making seasonal pieces for the shops and teaching holiday-themed classes. “My personal preference is things that are a little less literal. I’m more looking for colors that go toward that season than literal things, but I do the literal things as well,” she says.
While she enjoys creating seasonal pieces, practicality rules her style. “If it has colors that could go for Christmas, but also carry over into other seasons as well, I think that people like that better,” she says.
Wenger Johnstone’s holiday pieces can be seen and purchased at the Fired Earth Pottery Annual Open House & Sale Dec. 13–14 from 12–5 p.m.