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Verlena L. Johnson

Author / Illustrator

M.A., M.F.A.

Verlena L. Johnson_Pic_by Jeanette Reyes

Verlena L. Johnson was born in Chicago and grew up in Madison and Beloit Wisconsin.  She received her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in Afro-American Studies with an emphasis in Art History and her M.F.A. from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Sculpture.  Verlena has also studied wood carving with Ghanaian Master Wood-carvers, Djam Vivie & Kwakou Gerai, as well as, at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft and Penland School of Craft.

She has exhibited her artwork in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, Oakland and beyond.  At one time, seemingly another life time ago, Verlena was very consumed by puppet construction.  In fact, her M.F.A. thesis project entitled “Witness to Whiteness, was a multi-media puppet performance and video installation.  Her artwork has appeared on the cover of the book Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison 

and the journal Sinister Wisdom


Verlena has taught studio art and art history to children and adults in community centers and colleges.  Verlena began teaching in 1992 and has taught on and off for the last 25 years.  She has taught studio art, art history and cultural studies to children and adults in various contexts.  Her community-based teaching includes Insight Arts and Gallery 37 (Chicago, IL). The Arts Council of Long Beach (Long Beach, CA), and the Poly Cal Down Town Center Summer Arts Academy, (Pomona, CA).  Verlena has also taught African American art history and visual culture in Chicago, IL at The Art Institute of Chicago and Columbia College.  Additionally, she has given numerous presentations and workshops on topics ranging from her artwork to racial/cultural identity.

The Adventures of Kai and the Magical Machines is the culmination of her interest in African American history, intergenerational relationships, love and a focus on what is possible.  Verlena’s son Kai inspired her to write the book.  She was interested in writing a book that combined his love of science and her love of art and promoting reading and science literacy.

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