HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Milly Johnson describes pursuing her passion for art as the reverse of what people typically do.
"When I got done with high school, I wanted to go to art school. Well, my parents couldn't afford that," Johnson said with a laugh. "So I said I wanted to go to nursing school, but they couldn't afford that either. My third choice was being a hairdresser, and they could afford to send me to beauty school."
Upon graduating from beauty school, she opened a beauty shop on St. Mary's Avenue, used part of it as a studio for her art, and sold some paintings from there, too.
After 35 years as a hairdresser, Johnson put herself through nursing school to become a registered nurse and eventually worked in the emergency room of Hannibal Regional Hospital.
She put her paint brushes down -- then just a hobby -- when her grandchildren were born but then picked them back up around 2006 when her grandchildren were grown.
Johnson sold some of her artwork in co-op galleries, but there was one problem: It wasn't her own gallery, something she had wanted since she was younger.
In April, Johnson opened Milly's Abby Rose Gallery at 110 N. Main St. in downtown Hannibal. In just a few short months, she has filled the gallery with paintings, drawings and photographs of eight area artists as well as works by her own hand.
"Money is nice, but I don't really care if I make a lot of money," Johnson said. "I'm here because I love sharing this stuff with others and to help new artists get their work out there. And I try to make stuff cheap enough that the average person can buy, too."
Johnson paints various landscapes and images in oils, but her favorite image to paint is that of flowers, especially roses.
A specialty is painting flowers on glasses, ornaments, pitchers and other objects by using the one-stroke technique, in which different colors are put onto a flat brush to create shading, highlighting and blending -- all in one stroke.
She also paints flowers with the mud technique, where a special brush is used to make a design on Margot's Mud, a type of plaster product. The object then can be kiln-fired or allowed to dry on its own.
"I had to make a thousand roses before I liked one," Johnson said.
Each Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., she teaches an art class during which the students choose whether they want to practice painting in oils or acrylics or on canvas, and Johnson soon is adding new classes.
Two Saturdays each month, Kelly Harrison Johnson, a fellow artist and friend of Johnson's, teaches children's painting classes. Also coming up will be an eight-week course taught by Karen Crow, an artist featured in the gallery, that will include painting with watercolors, doing portraits and learning art theory.
"Anybody stopping by the gallery will find all different kids of arts and crafts," Johnson said. "I love to share my passion with others, whether young, old or in-between."
More information is available by calling 573-231-4279.