Johnson Antonio is recognized as the founding father of Navajo folk art and his work is especially prized for his affectionate depictions of his people and culture. This large and powerful rendition of a Navajo woman and her sheep is signed and dated (1989), and serves as a reminder of Johnson’s mastery of pocket-knife, cottonwood, and paint.
In 1974, Johnson grew tired of railroad work and decided it was time to stay home. Returning to his home in the Bisti, he yearned for a more traditional life, driving a wagon and herding his own sheep and goats.
In the early 1980’s, Johnson was compelled to start carving. On a whim, he gathered cottonwood from a wash in nearby Farmington. Using an axe to rough out the pieces, refining features with a pocket knife and painting with watercolors and dleesh; he created his early figures in the hope that someone would be interested in purchasing his Navajo people.
Today, he experiences great satisfaction in creating what he knows best, Navajo men and women and the animals for which they care. His work is collected internationally and resides in the permanent collections of the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the National Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C. and the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe.
---information from an earlier article by Chuck Rosenak