Johnson highlights a variety of artists such as April Gratrix, Jason Forcier and Jamie Barbor, as well as her abstract and plein-air landscapes. Along with the eclectic contemporary display of work from those whom she admires, the gallery acts as a networking hub, as well as a place in which interior designers and homeowners can purchase art. Johnson’s recent grand opening and Female Entrepreneurs of Truckee/Tahoe events were both well attended.
It all started 27 years ago when Johnson moved to Incline Village one winter to be a ski bum. Her first job was cocktail waitressing at night at and she would ski during the day. When the ski season ended, she eventually got back into cosmetology (her background was in hairdressing) and went on to own several hair salons in North Lake Tahoe over the last 20 years.
In the early 2000s, Johnson was doing hair for a client who invited her to her house to paint with her. The client told her: “You’re good with your hands, have good hand/eye coordination and are really good with color.” Eventually, Johnson started going over to her house to paint vases and still lifes, which became a therapeutic hobby that offset the hecticness of running a salon.
However, it was when Johnson took a plein-air painting class with Gregory Kondos at Sierra Nevada College (now Sierra Nevada University) in 2010 that she truly got hooked on painting.
“There was just something about being outside and painting the natural environment. I realized that I really wanted to get good at it,” she says, adding that it also helped that plein-air painting workshops were held in beautiful destination places.
“[Plein-air painting] provided a way to travel and be able to paint; I would base all of my trips off that,” Johnson says.
And now, being caught up in the day-to-day operations as an art gallery owner and all the work that comes with it, Johnson says she still goes on vacations where she can “binge paint.”
Her preferred way to paint is in the outdoors but she got into more abstract work when she started managing an art gallery. In 2014, she decided to make the jump from hairdressing to concentrating on her art full time and acquired a studio space in Incline Village, Nev., called Cobalt. Johnson and her business partner at the time also ran the space as an art gallery to help offset some of the costs.
However, in 2018 her partner moved out of the area and Johnson started running it on her own, so she changed the name to the Piper J Studio. It was located off Village Boulevard but she wasn’t getting the foot traffic she wanted. Then during the pandemic, Johnson moved to Truckee and discovered opportunity in downtown’s emerging art and culture scene.
Being in one of the 14 cultural districts in California, Piper is thrilled to be amongst more of a concentration of art galleries and close to Donner Pass Road where Truckee Thursdays are held.
“There are a few other galleries here and I think the best thing for Piper J Gallery would be if there were more,” she says.
Johnson also likes to show a variety of work and give other professional artists a chance to exhibit their work.
“There are not a whole lot of other places for artists to show their work [in North Lake Tahoe],” she says. “I’ve gotten to know other artists over the years and there’s so much art that I like — some of it more than my own. And I love collaborating with other people.” | piperjgallery.com
June 23 | Truckee Thursdays with Susan Watson & Piper Johnson | 5-8:30 p.m.
June 30 | Truckee Thursdays with Molly O’Mara & Piper Johnson | 5-8:30 p.m.
July 8 | Friday Artist Talk with Michelle Courier & Jason Forcier | 5-6:30 p.m.