Artist meddles with metal

Renee Johnson’s police badge donated to the Topeka Police Department commemorates the fallen officers. Johnson wishes that every person in service could have their own badge. 

Kelly Hurla,Washburn Review

Washburn alum, Renee Johnson has always dabbled in art, but didn’t seriously consider it as a career. She graduated from Washburn with an associates degree in science, with an emphasis in physical therapy. Today, she makes her living off of her unique stainless steel art.

After working as a physical therapy assistant for many years, Renee and her husband decided she would stay home to care for their children. While Johnson enjoyed spending time with her children, she also grew extremely bored being a stay at home mother.

The boredom in part inspired Johnson to start painting. After realizing she had some artistic talent, Johnson moved onto making mostly children’s murals, and then onto curtains and pillows and other interior design items.

The Johnson’s then transferred from Kansas City to Topeka and Renee was hired to redecorate the office of Neal Spencer, the  CEO of Ernest-Spencer Metals. Spencer requested that Johnson make a metal piece for his office. Although Johnson hadn’t dabbled in metal before, Spencer showed her how to use a grinder and work from there.

From the success of Johnson’s work, Spencer and Johnson became business partners and started Stainless Steel Design Concepts.

Johnson’s work through SS Design Concepts includes a wide range of materials including collegiate pieces, back splashes, signs, ceilings and almost anything that can defy gravity. The variations in her work include pieces ranging from below $10 and up to the thousands of dollars. Some of her recent work however, she has completed and donated at no cost.

“The badge thing was actually my idea,” said Brett Johnson, husband to Renee and Kansas Highway Patrol Lieutenant.

Brett has been a patrolman going on 13 years and this is his fourth year as Lieutenant. He is also a WU alum who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

Renee completed her husband’s badge and displayed it at the Eclective for a First Friday Art Walk event, not expecting to get as much attention as she did.

“She got too many sales off it or too much interest, so I never actually got the badge that was made for me,” said Brett.  “It’s still hanging in her studio.”

While Renee has goals to go national with her collegiate work and more corporate pieces, she also aspires to challenge herself.

“I always try to come up with some crazy thing,” said Renee. “I always want to look like I’m trying to defy gravity or like you could reach through it. I’m always trying to figure out something that you’re not going to find anywhere else.”

Johnson still enjoys painting, but is focusing on her metal works because they are so unique.

“I want you to come in and have the ‘wow’ factor,” said Renee. “Come in and look at it because you can’t even – you can’t describe this stuff. You just can’t.”

Brett continues to remain supportive of Renee’s work.

“There’s really no limit to what she can do,” said Brett.

The Eclective is located at  900 N. Kansas Ave. The showroom is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. First Friday hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. accordingly.

Private showings and parties are also available by appointment.