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  • Kevin Elliott

David McCall Johnston

As a youngster growing up in Indiana, David McCall Johnston's mother forced him to go outside and play because he would spend so much time inside drawing and painting. Despite all of her good intentions, Johnston has enjoyed more than four decades as a celebrated artist, earning a spot among the "Who's Who" of American illustrators.

"I was always drawing and painting. It's very much in my DNA," Johnston said. "I had a teacher in high school in Dearborn who was a big influence in pulling the best out of me... I came across a book I made in high school, and it talked about my love for art and what I would like to do in the future. I had my eye set for it.

"My high school counselor said, 'Don't do art. Do drafting,' which I kind of get a chuckle out of now. No other teacher was pushing art."

Johnston's wife, Ruth, recalls her father-in-law's concern about his career path when the couple was just starting out together.

"He was an engineer at Ford," she said. "He couldn't understand why David didn't have a 'real job.' He asked what we were going to do about health insurance. We just laughed. We had it – we just paid for it. There was never a mindset that art couldn't be a profitable situation, and he's still working, now."

Working from the comfort of the couple's local 1840 Greek Revival farmhouse in the Bloomfield/Franklin area, McCall often works family members, pets and personal objects into work, which is known for his signature Americana style. His work has appeared in the Jules Vern Museum in Nantes, France; The Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills; The Henry Ford; and prints of his work have been secured by the Franklin Gallery/Franklin Mint.

Johnston's work also includes commissioned work for Steuben Glass; Norwest Bank's Mt. Rushmore Golden Anniversary; original works for Kmart Corporation; Maker's Mark Distillery; The Whirlpool Corporation; Celestial Seasonings; Thorn Apple Valley; Beringer Wine and others. Johnston's art and illustrations also has appeared in children's books published by Harper Collins, Prentice Hall, Ballentine Books and many others.

Throughout his career, Johnston has lived and worked in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City and other locations.

"For a number of years, I was recognized as a New York artist, but my first wife wasn't happy in New York City, so we moved back to Detroit," he said.

In 1979, Johnston was alone and met Ruth. The couple has been married for more than 40 years.

"Ruth was responsible for getting the piece commissioned for Mt. Rushmore, and other accounts. That was really important," he said. "About 90 percent of my work has been national. I don't really focus on local work."

Johnston also has returned the support he receives from Ruth, providing design and art for several of her cookbooks. He said he enjoys working together, particularly in and around the Birmingham/Bloomfield area.

"It's important to be a team. We just kind of stoke each others' fire," he said. "And I'm very happy about being in Michigan and being supportive of the community. It has that historic component that I love, and Michigan has great beauty to me."

Photo: Laurie Tennent

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