Father Padre Raymond Johnson has worn many hats, but never lost his conception for generosity and kindness.
Johnson, who lives in Cody, recently donated more than a million dollars in appraised art to the Heritage of the Americas Museum in El Cajon, Calif. The 500 paintings and posters he provided are from his Faces of the Global Human Family collection.
Johnson said when he presented the museum his gift they were in disbelief, asking how much the portraits would cost. He would accept no payment for the offering.
“This is a presentation to the planet on behalf of its artist and author,” he recounted telling them.
The museum now has an entire wing dedicated to his work.
“It’s really enhanced our museum,” Lynn Rosen, museum administrative assistant said. “He’s able to show the goodness of people, allowing friendliness and love to shine through.”
Johnson spent nearly 13 years travelling the globe from 1980-1993, living with people from 149 nations, documenting the transcendent nature of the human smile that knows no barrier across the 24 geological regions of the world. He also painted 24 additional canvases for each region and a centerpiece canvas.
“He knows every person in these paintings,” Rosen said. “Not only by names, but knows their personality too.”
The centerpiece painting shows an outer space view of Earth with faces of children and adults, each representing a different cross-section of culture.
“When our facial expressions and eyes naturally reflect the spirit of our open acceptance and a sense of awareness,” Johnson said in a recent “Living Legends” publication produced by the Enterprise. “The open child in each communicant is always released and prejudices in various degrees are dismantled.”
As gifted of a painter Johnson may be, he is just as much a deep philosophical thinker. His self-authored book “Journeys with the Global Family” showcased his work and his thoughts on the united human quilt.
“This writing reveals my personal observations, concerns and insights regarding my reverence for human life the inherent worth of all living creatures,” Johnson wrote. “My respect for the personhood of all people undergirds my thoughts about the freedom of the human spirit.”
Johnson’s quotes are on display around each painting at the museum.
“When you read it you feel connected,” Rosen said.
Johnson said he stroked his paintings for the purpose of making an important visual statement, piecing together commonalities of the world’s cultures, all bridged through the human smile.
“God’s most trusting and understanding being is the child, which shows up in the smile of every face,” Johnson said.
During his travels, Johnson spent time with people in their natural environments, working, playing and celebrating. He said he traveled by almost every possible mode of transportation, including walking a few thousand miles.
“The deeper I journeyed into our world’s human forest, the more convinced I became that to effectively interpret the human family and make my work live and breath, I had to personally experience the people,” Johnson said.
His gregarious candor and adventurous nature helped bridge language boundaries for the playful rascal.
One sketch of Padre and his Russian farmer pal Ivan show how two men who have little in common culturally, can still create a bond through connection of pure human spirit.
“I spoke a fairly passable Ruski (Russian),” Johnson said. “That was a perfect connecting link all over.”
The painter benefitted from his past ranching experience a number of times along his travels. In Mongolia he challenged champion horseback rider Ching Juo Getu to a race, which he only lost by a horse length. Johnson said it was the first time an American had challenged a Mongol champion, and a story of the event was carried by the Associated Press.
“They called me a crazy American cowboy,” Johnson said with a wry smile.
But it was not all laughter and cheers for the Padre. He was taken aback but the poverty and starvation he saw in certain African countries. He documented this in two different charcoal sketches, showing a suffering man and a child and its mother, both severely malnourished.
“Drought and political selfishness by their government leaders have caused this mother and child to walk for miles though intense heat to seek food,” Johnson wrote of “The Face of Hunger” drawing. “Only the most severe heart rending hunger, starvation and illness could force these self-reliant people to trade their nomadic freedom for food.”
Another great sorrow Johnson reflected on was his experience in Rwanda, where he visited not long before the genocide that scarred the country in 1994.
“It was a sad commentary on what can happen when pure emotion is the gasoline that pumps the engine,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s work resulted in 500 different pieces that represented the ethnic and cultural diversity he experienced with the people he visited and lived with from around the world. When Johnson attended the opening of his exhibit, Rosen said he was able to recount not only the names of each person in each painting, but also reflected on their personalities.
“He showcases the universal common thread of human existence, in which there are no color differences, ” Rosen said.
His first exhibition was featured at the United Nations and after at China’s Royal Palace in Beijing, the first American to be invited to exhibit at the site.
“This was like the frosting on the cake of my journey around the world,” Johnson said. “I was as comfortable with the leaders of China as I am with my parents.”
“I believe that Padre’s exceptional ability to translate his insights into the human family and the meaning and purpose of our human existence through the creativity of his visual art,” Dr. Noel Brown said of Johnson in his biographical description of the artist, “will not only provide a very important visual contribution toward an increased understanding among the people of our world, but will maintain a unique historical significance.”
Prior to his artistic voyage Johnson served in the Vietnam War as a Navy Special Forces Medical Chaplain, earning the names “Padre” and “Doc.” He was wounded twice in the line of duty, receiving purple and silver heart commemoration for his service. His sketches “The Face of War” and “River Assault Flotilla One” document the harrows of war.
After the war but prior to his world travels, he worked a series of state and national leadership positions in government and human services with the State of Minnesota and then returned to Wyoming where he worked as a ranch hand and also painted western art, winning a National Western Artist of the year award.
“I’ve enjoyed each new chapter of my life,” Johnson said.
While earning his doctorate in cultural anthropology, Johnson was motivated to enact his Faces of the Global Human Family project with encouragement and sponsorship from the Nobel Foundation while in Oslo, Norway.
“I said, ‘I’m ready,’” Johnson recounted.
He said his colorful range of life experiences are what gave him the confidence to embark on the trip. Overcoming unfamiliar customs, languages, securities and food, Johnson was able to make his mark on the world as he saw it.
“I had to be the most adjustable guy on the planet to cross a boundary into a new set of cultures and family arrangements,” Johnson said. “I took this journey not to self-aggrandize myself, but to showcase the emotions of the people of the world.”