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New to the Dartmouth Skiway this year is a beautiful oil painting that hangs atop the stairs of the McLane Family Lodge. It's fun to watch visitors pause to look at it, and smile as they imagine themselves or their kids in the painting's scene of skiers and a snowboarder coming down a section of the Howie Chivers trail. The painting is that good.
The artist is Nils Johnson '73, a true Renaissance man who splits his time between his hometown of Canfield, OH and Lyme, NH. In Canfield, Nils is senior partner in the family law firm that is currently celebrating its 100th year. Founded by Nils' grandfather, the firm has employed 4 generations of family members, including Nils' three children, all of whom are practice attorneys.
Nils came to Dartmouth College as a Russian major and spent his junior year foreign study in Leningrad. With a true love of the language, Nils was for many years a Russian interpreter for non-profit organizations, and he helped start the Rotary Club's first student exchange program in country. Since then, Nils has expanded his language fluency to include French, Spanish, and German, and he's currently learning Italian.
The arts came naturally to Nils. Since childhood, Nils has loved to tell stories, whether it's through writing plays, writing and playing jazz piano music, or through painting. As he says, "it's all the same." His painting skills are relatively self-taught, and he prefers a technique called "under-painting" with a ghost image that is painted the opposite color on the color wheel than the color he wants to end up with. If he wants to paint a Caucasian figure, for example, he starts off painting the figure in blue, and then overpaints with various colored layers until the figure is complete with depth and color that is true to life.
An avid skier while at Dartmouth, Nils spent many hours on the Skiway's slopes and remembers, "in the old lodge, an old painting of a snow scene." When the new lodge was built, he wanted to provide a new, more vibrant painting. So last spring, Nils spent a day outside at the Skiway taking photographs of skiers and riders coming down the Winslow trail. From there, he drew in pencil the images he wanted for a painting, and then started off underpainting the various figures.
The result is nothing short of fabulous and impressive! The painting brings to life the exact motions and excitement that is happening on the slopes outside the Lodge. Nils is pleased with the results, and Doug Holler, the Skiway's manager, is delighted to have the painting front and center where visitors to the Lodge are sure to see it. Take a look; perhaps you'll see yourself in the painting, too.
If anyone is interested in learning Nils' technique for oil painting, he can be reached through the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, NH where he teaches an advanced oil painting class.