Ian Johnson Interview
This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Ian Johnson. He is going to talk about growing up in Lime Rock, his dad’s business, his mother working at Hotchkiss, his own career, Salisbury School, and the business of his wife. Today’s date is Jan. 11, 2022. This is file 47, cycle 4.
JM:What is your name?
IJ:My name is Ian Johnson.
IJ:May I, 1975
IJ:Sharon Hospital, Dr. Tesoro
JM:Your parents’ names
IJ:Gerolyn V. Johnson & Gordon C. Johnson
JM:Do you have siblings?
IJ:I do. I have one is deceased, Trish Johnson, a brother Chis Johnson, and my sister Janice Johnson Madden. He grew up in Lakeville as well.
JM:You grew up in Lime Rock.
JM:What are some of the things that you did when you were a youngster? Did you go to the Grove?
IJ:Yeah, Lime Rock didn’t have a lot of stuff going on so a lot of my summers were spend riding my bike to the Grove or my mom would drop me off at the Grove. I spent every waking hour; it seems like at the Town Grove for sure. There were a few Lime rock kids around that we hung out with, after school and stuff. The Grove was the big spot.
JM;You worked at the Village Store for a while.
IJ:That was my first real job for Jon Higgins. (See his interview) I put together bikes, building the boats that would go out front, just general stuff. I stayed in the back, I was not a salesman, and I was sort of a general helper, mostly doing bikes. I loved it. It was my first real job.
JM:Did you get paid?
IJ:Yep. My sister Janice worked there and was very close with the Higgins family. That was how I landed that job. I became an avid biker ever since working there.
JM:Lime Rock Race Track?2.
IJ:As a kid we didn’t go there as much as you would think, but we would use the track as night time. We would do family walks and go around the track. It was very quiet and peaceful; it was like a park to walk around. The dogs would run around. We didn’t attend a ton of the races as a family. That just wasn’t our thing. We always went to the fireworks. It was a place where we would definitely recreate when it was empty.
JM:You were a life guard at many places.
IJ:I got certified at Hotchkiss School when I was a student there by Ted Davis. I worked at the Grove for several summers. I worked at Camp Sloane (See John Hedbavny’s interview) and fill in for people as a life guard. I worked at the Sharon Town Beach, Cornwall, and every once in a while Falls Village, but those were mainly substitutes. I was at the Grove for many years.
JM:You were at Camp Hilltop, too (See Rick DelPrete’s interview)
IJ:Yep I attended Camp Hilltop. I actually was a counselor there, once too, I believe, one of the final years. They weren’t around forever. I remember being a camper more than a counselor. I worked for the Rec Department. I taught swimming, tennis, sailing, rowing, even baseball so I was always involved with Art Wilkinson in the Rec Department, Jacquie Rice. My summers were always spent there.
JM:They were rewarding. You loved it.
IJ:It was a lot of responsibility to have a 16 year old kid watching people to make sure they didn’t drown. It was heavy duty.
JM:But it was a good life skill.
JM:Absolutely and you carried that through.
IJ:Yep I just signed my son up to do life guarding lessons this summer.
IJ:He too will be doing it.
JM:Good! Talk a little bit about you dad. What was your father’s business?
IJ:Dad was the town veterinarian. There were other veterinarians in the area, but he was really the only one in the Lakeville area, the Lime Rock Animal Hospital. He moved his clinic from Greenwich up to here a couple of years before I was born (prior to 1975 Ed.) It was open for years; I can’t remember the date it closed, but it was into the 2000s. He ran a small animal practice, dogs, and cats. It was the only emergency clinic around. Sand Road has stuff, but if any time there was an emergency, day or night they would come to the clinic. I would help dad every once in a while, my siblings would always go up
and help him manage a dog that had been hit or a cat that had been hit. Everybody I knew took their animals to my dad.
JM:Oh yeah, we did.
IJ:There was Ken Kay in Millerton and Sand Road in Canaan, but he was the one people went to. I always liked how he bartered with a lot of people. He got his car fixed in return for veterinary medicine. He had a good system with a farmer from Falls Village when he needed to get his dog taken care of.
JM: He worked with the community in any way that was possible. He was always kind and helpful if you had a hurt animal or a sick animal. He was always there. He was somebody you could depend upon.
IJ:Yep, years on the Board of Education and also years on Planning and Zoning. Dad was and is all about this community.
JM:The only oral history I have with him was when renovation up at the school (Salisbury Central) in 1990. He was on that and fully involved. (See Gordon Johnson’s interview). You mother worked outside of the home. Where did she work?
IJ:When I was a little guy, she worked at Dotty Smith. She worked as the secretary to Dotty herself and Leonard, I think was the guy’s name, her husband. They were close for years. Mom ended up at Hotchkiss and worked there for about 20 years under 4 various different Headmasters. She was there when I was there as a student. She was there when my brother went there. We always teased her as she sort of ran the school. She was the secretary to the Headmaster so she was responsible for a lot of different inner workings of that place.
JM:She worked for Art White…
IJ:Robert O’Dene, Skip Mattoon…
JM:and Rusty Chandler. (See his interview) What about your education? You went to Salisbury School, when did you graduate?
IJ:I graduated from Hotchkiss.
JM:I meant Salisbury Central School.
IJ:Oh Salisbury Central yes I graduated in 1989.
JM:And then Hotchkiss
IJ:Hotchkiss in 1993 Skidmore in 1997.
JM:Who got you interested in art?
IJ:The very first interest was my sister Trish and my dad, but when I was at Hotchkiss Marge Reid who was one of the art teachers there. She was a really important figure in my life. I saw this woman who was enjoying her life as a teacher but also able to create and make her own art work on the side. She seemed to have a very fulfilled life. She and I were very close. I said I want to be an art teacher and an artist because of her. She definitely was a huge part of my four years at Hotchkiss and even still.
JM:She was a great influence on a lot of people.
JM:What was your degree from Skidmore?
IJ:Bachelor of Science as a studio art major. At Skidmore they call it a BS because of the lab hours, not hours you spend in the studios. It is equivalent to a science major. Other schools would call it a BA.
JM:That is alright. It works.
IJ:There are only a couple of schools that do that.
JM:You had a checkered career and it all has been fascinating. You have worked at a couple of different boarding schools; you worked at the Lakeville Journal.
JM:What did you do there?
IJ:I did everything from graphic design, lay-out, paste –up to advertising sales; I was mostly on the production side of things. I never wrote for the Journal. Oddly enough I was never a photographer for them either (See Janet Manko‘s interview)
JM:But you became a professional photographer.
IJ:I became a professional photographer after that point in time.
JM:You did that for 4 years?
IJ:I still consider myself a professional: I worked for a wedding photographer in south Norwalk, Ct. for several years. I was the Hall & Oats photographer for the band Hall & Oats.
JM:You also did some home school studies.
IJ:Yep I homeschooled his two step-children, Darrell Hall’s 2 step-children in Millerton, NY when they lived there. Then I went on to tour with the band and to photograph them all around the world for just under two years. It didn’t last that long.
JM:What a great experience.
IJ: It was neat, yeah. I was one of only a handful of photographers that were able to photograph the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2014. So I was on stage for some very crucial moments. It was pretty cool.
JM:Oh yeah. I hope you saved all of that.
IJ:Oh yeah I have got hard drives, and back-ups.
JM:How did you get connected with Salisbury School?
IJ:It started when I was working a Marvel Wood School (in Kent). I was teaching photo film there. Salisbury School built a new media lab. They put in computers and cameras and all this equipment, but they didn’t have anybody to run it. My friend Rhonan Mokriski, who is the Dean of Faculty at the time said, “Hey come check out our new media lab.” So I did. He asked me to write up a little proposal as to what that room could be like. What would you do with that room? I wrote it up. Within a week or so Mr. Chandler, Chiz Chandler (see his interview), Rhonan and I had met and they hired me. I took the job immediately
JM;I don’t blame you.
IJ:I finished the year out at Marvel Wood which was a great place for me, but Salisbury was a better fit. I have been there for 6 years.
JM:Wonderful. Who is the Headmaster now?
IJ:There is an Interim Headmaster Bobby Wynne and then we have a new man coming in at the end of this school year to take over for next year Will Webb. He taught at Gunnery and has had some experience, but not at Salisbury School.
JM:How did you get to be the Head of the Art Department so quickly?
IJ:I took a chance actually. Danielle Mailer and Roger McKee (see his interview) have been Chairs before. Roger had done it so many years; he was sort of done with that role. Danielle was not a big fan of doing it either, but also I am the youngest guy in the department and I have worked at a lot of different schools. I have taught in a lot of different environments. I have a lot of very specific ideas of the direction I want the art department to go in. I have worked at a lot of different boarding schools. It just happened that my vision for what I want the arts to be at Salisbury was in conjunction with what the administration wanted.
JM:They made a good choice.6.
JM:No really I am not flattering, I know your background having talked with you before and you have such a wealth of experience that it is wonderful for the kids that go there to have more than just one focus.
IJ:Yeah it is definitely an athletic heavy school, very athletic centered school. Sports are really important, but we are trying to change the culture so that the arts become more valued to all.
JM:It should be.
JM:Specifically what do you teach?
IJ:Digital photography, filming, I have started to do a little more graphic design, but broadcast journalism is one of the newer classes that we offer.
JM:And you live stream the sports?
IJ:Yep so I created a live streaming program about five or six years ago. We live stream varsity sporting events so parents can tune in on you tube and watch live. We have commentators; the boys do everything from the ground up: the boys are responsible for filming, graphics, commentating, archiving the footage and all of it. It is a student run program. They can do it in lieu of sports so the boy doesn’t have a specific sport he wants to do, they can do that instead.
JM:Oh that is wonderful to give them a choice.
JM:Over the 6 years have you seen changed in attitude?
IJ:Just basically my role as an art teacher, I want it to become more important. That is the attitude adjustment that I have seen mainly. I haven’t seen too much change in terms of attitude.
JM:When I was doing Chiz, we talked about it and he wanted his boys to be gentlemen, manners polite which I thought was absolutely wonderful. That was what I was getting at about attitude.
IJ:When I first got there brotherhood was a huge word that got thrown around, the Salisbury gentleman. I originally thought it was just a selling point for the school to attract students and families, but that brotherhood was super apparent right from the beginning. That is what I am most fond of at that school is how brotherly everyone is: how they look out for one another. Even the most popular, most athletic, most top of the food chain guy in the year they will put their arm around the kid who is struggling, a freshman who is meager and weak and might not be an athlete. These boys look out for one another up there.
JM:That is what I was hoping.7.
IJ:I equate that with being a single sex environment. I don’t think there is a…
JM;There are no distraction.
IJ:Yeah, there are no distractions, no competition, no showing-off. They are just good to each other, for the most part. I am sure there are some shenanigans. The culture of brotherhood and com-munity is constantly worked on, constantly talked about and discussed and celebrated.
JM:I am going to ask you about what type of students, academically middle of the road, top, bottom? What would you say?
IJ:I think we have such a mixture of kids. We have kids that are going to MIT, Harvard, Cornell; they are going to the top Ivy League schools. We have kids that are middle of the road and kids who lean on our learning support up there. These kids are trying to find their way. Every kid learns differently. I am really proud of how our faculty is able to adapt to those types of kids. They teach in a way is more adaptable to the learning style of the kid. We learn to adapt our lesson plans to fit each kid’s style. I would say we have a really healthy mix of intellectuals.
JM:It sounds it.
IJ:It is cool.
JM:How about diversity?
IJ:We are getting there. We have kids from all over the world. Every year we try to do more of that. We have an Office of Integrity and Belonging which was formed in the last couple of years. It is run by Meg Allen. She lives up at Hotchkiss with her wife. She does great things. We have a huge day coming up for Martin Luther King Day. Integrity & Belonging had become a really important theme throughout how we teach and our programming and stuff that deals with this sort of thing. It has been built into our curriculum and that is really neat.
JM:I like that. I was very impressed when I went up there and did Chiz four or five years ago (Jan 26, 2015 Ed.) I liked just the demeanor of the boys. When I did Roger (see Roger McKee’s interview), I was saying that they don’t have a lot of community relationships, and he straightened me out on that one! Chiz was very interested in having the students integrated in the town if they could and from my own perspective, I have more dealings with Salisbury School as far as using the resources of my office as Town Historian more than the other schools in the area. That pleases me a great deal. We are here as a resource.
JM:I know you have a wife and her name is?
IJ:Ali Trotta Johnson. She goes by Dr. Ali Trotta.
JM:She has a business locally.8.
IJ:Correct. She/we purchased the old Salisbury Bank & Trust building behind the supermarket in Sharon, catty-corner out back. It is Veterinary Rehabilitation & Aquatic Center. She specializes in physical rehabilitation of canines. She would be willing to do a cat, but 100% of her clients are dogs. If dogs have an ACL surgery, Sand Road will refer them to Ali. Carrie Cannon will refer them to Ali. Ali will rehab them in our indoor pool, our underwater treadmill; she does acupuncture. It is all about getting the dogs back up and running, literally. She works with geriatric dogs, dogs that otherwise would be hobbled. She gets them back on their feet.
JM:Oh that is great.
IJ:It is a neat job. She gets to play with dogs all day long. No surgeries, no emergency hours, none of that.
JM;She has the best of everything.
IJ:She comes home covered in dog hair and happy as can be.
JM:What a wonderful thing. Where did she do her training?
IJ:Her very first internship was with Gordon Johnson at Lime Rock Animal Hospital.
IJ:She was a student at Berkshire School. She went on to get her undergrad degree at UMASS. Graduate School was at Iowa State University.
JM:How long has she been in business?
IJ:I should know that at least a bit less than 10 years, maybe 8 years.
JM:Before we close is there anything you would like to add that we haven’t covered?
IJ:I don’t think so. Salisbury School has built this new relationship with Lime Rock Park which is kind of full circle here. Dicky Riegel who is the new owner of Lime Rock Park and he is also President of the Board of Trustees at Salisbury School. He is a graduate. He and I have been working together. Now the boys will go over there when we film and we photograph and we work some of the races. I think dicky would be a really neat person to interview because he is on the Board of Trustees and he owns the track. I will do it but I want to give him a couple of years to get used to the track.
IJ:For sure but it is a cool relationship that the boys are able to now go to the track and be part of the media team and giving them real world vocational skills on how to photograph, and document at a really neat place.
JM:Oh yes and it is internationally known and one of the prettiest tracks in the US.
IJ:It is so cool.9.
JM:Oh that is wonderful. Thank you so very much.
IJ:You are welcome. Thanks for having me.