Retired doctor finds new passion in art
For years, Dr. L.P. Johnson delivered the babies of Rockford.
He cared for the elderly, treated the ill and was there when someone was in an accident. He primed hundreds of doctors for their careers in medicine.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, at the age 82, that the longtime Rockford physician decided to retire from medicine. And promptly, he found a new passion: art.
Now 87 years old, Johnson has a collection of about 75 pencil drawings that he has sketched from his kitchen table. The portraits feature his friends and colleagues, as well as the faces of people he’s seen on television or in magazines.
NFL quarterback Tom Brady peers out from one picture. Actor Sam Waterston is captured in another. Then there is the picture of a young boy lining up a golf shot. Johnson calls it one of his favorites because of the concentration in the boy’s face.
“I like those in which I’m challenged to get some kind of an expression,” he said. “It tells a story.”
For the month of June, Johnson’s work is being displayed in the main concourse at SwedishAmerican Hospital, the place he called his professional home for so many years.
The artwork is, in fact, being shown just a half block from a medical clinic that bears Johnson’s name. The L.P. Johnson Family Health Center is operated by the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford and features its family practice residency. That’s where doctors come to train after they have finished medical school but before branching out to practice on their own.
“It has been very successful,” said Johnson, who helped launch the family practice residency through his role as president of the Rockford Medical Education Foundation. “We were able to attract very quality medical students and build it up.”
The doctors in the family medicine clinic, just like Johnson, are trained to take care of the family — babies, teenagers, parents and grandparents.
“One of the premises of family medicine is continuity of care,” he said. “It seemed like I always had somebody in labor. It was fun.”
He might have spent years in medical school, but Johnson’s artistic training was quite short. He signed up for a six-week drawing class at Rock Valley College shortly
after he retired.
“It was something to do when I wasn’t on the golf course,” he said. “I thought it was fun. It grew and I gathered a lot from books and magazines, visiting galleries and I got some encouragement from my daughters, who are both artistic.”
Johnson, whose full name is Lebaron Paul, continues to sketch portraits — even now that he has lost much of the sight in his left eye. The average picture takes between four and six hours and nearly all are done in pencil. He has donated his work to Carpenter’s Place and Caritas.
Despite his newfound passion — and although he’s no longer practicing medicine — Johnson can’t bring himself to ignore the career he spent 50 years building.
He continues reading medical journals and will track the progress of new drugs and procedures online.
“My wife asks me why I do that. I say, ‘I have to look intelligent at cocktail parties,’ ” he said with a laugh. “No, I just love doing it.”
Elizabeth Davies can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.