Meet The Author

Shawana Johnson. author and artist behind The Adventures of Charlie-Olivia & Puppy.The original painting for The Adventures of Charlie-Olivia & Puppy.
The Original Painting

Shawana Johnson

The earliest version of this project came from an art class I took at Louisiana State University back in 1985 or 1986. For this class, I painted a little black girl equipped with an afro, a big hair bow, and a short red dress covered in white polka dots. She flies her kite beside a huge apple tree despite a brewing thunderstorm. Her puppy hides behind the tree, a red bird bathes in a nearby bird bath, and the bright yellow sun peeks from behind grey clouds in the sky.

This particular painting held a special place in my heart because whenever people saw it, they always smiled. For years, I planned to reimagine this piece by replicating it on fabric, and in 2018, I finally did. As I finalized the initial piece, the project evolved and became multifaceted; I was inspired to make an entire quilt composed of other scenes from my childhood. 

Soon thereafter, this project took on a new meaning for me. During this time, two family members began experiencing memory loss. Under these circumstances, my artwork was now not only an avenue for commemorating my past, but an effort to preserve my family’s legacy. I worked more fervently, dedicated to protecting my family’s stories from being lost to time. Each scene filled me with more joy than the last, awakening long-buried memories, one after the other. Even still, I have memories I plan to memorialize through my art.  

This project became so engrossing that I couldn't break away, even temporarily. Instead, I brought projects with me to doctor’s visits, to the auto shop, and on other daily errands where I knew I’d have free time. Whenever others saw me working, they would almost always stop to steal a glance. Strangers would compliment my art, sharing their own memories from their past, or sharing stories their elders told them about their childhood. Being able to create artwork that evoked emotion and helped others recall their own time-lost memories fueled my passion for my craft. 

On one occasion, when I first shared my artwork when one of my coworkers, I remember that she started to cry. She exclaimed, “Oh, Ms. Johnson, you’re not a teacher. You are an artist! How did you remember all of these things from your childhood?” She explained that my artwork had aroused forgotten childhood memories. My coworker then shared these stories with me. She said that, in exchange for cooking, her mother would make her the most beautiful dresses. Hearing her story touched me so deeply that I recreated this scene using fabric from a dress her mother made for her and her mother's favorite jacket.

Each art piece in The Adventures of Charlie-Olivia and Puppy collection represents its own narrative brought to life. The fabrics used are repeated throughout each picture to symbolize both the continuity of content and the circle of life. That said, most of the fabric scraps used were recycled, taken from clothing saved by my mother, children, and grandchildren. The quilt in “Things That Go Bump in the Night,” for example, pays homage to an unfinished quilt I inherited from my grandmother. Its sun was made from my favorite yellow dress; it created perfect tiny rays of sunlight. Meanwhile, the pink fabric used in the lamp and the cows' udders came from a blouse my mother loved to wear. While also serving to intimately remind me of my loved ones, these fabrics represent the common threads that bind and unite us together.

As you read The Adventures of Charlie-Olivia and Puppy collection and make your selections, I can only hope that they will bring you and your family as much joy as I had while creating them. I hope these stories will inspire you to create your own memories and to make each day an adventure.