Christine Johnson, a former Chicagoan who played a key role in the early Women-in-Print and women in trades movements locally and nationally, died Jan. 23 of complications from cancer. She was 63.
Johnson and Nancy Poore were married in Canada in February 2007, their anniversary. This February would have marked their 34th year together. Johnson, originally from Cincinnati, was a co-founder, in the 1970s, of Metis Press, publisher of lesbian-feminist literature, and a founding member of the national Women-in-Print network.
As a blue-collar lesbian construction machinist, Johnson was a pioneer in opening up exclusively male, high-paying union blue-collar jobs to women and minorities, and was a board member of Chicago Women in the Trades.
Other affiliations include founding membership in the U.S. Alliance of Lesbian & Feminist Printers, Feminists in Alternative Business, and as a collective member of Black Maria, a Journal of Feminist Literature. In 1979, she co-authored A Book of One's Own Guide to Self-Publishing, under the name Christine Leslie.
Johnson played softball, basketball, and other team sports in the Chicago area, including in the gay sports leagues, and especially loved outdoor activity such as kayaking, camping, and hiking. She was also musical, and played guitar.
After she and Poore moved to Michigan, Johnson ran the Running Rivers Kayak Rental in Douglas. The couple ran a vacation rental cottage, and Johnson created art and continued her interest in publishing. She compiled her late mother Helen Ruth Johnson's writing and award-winning photographs into a book, The Farm Story: A South Dakota Memoir, in 2011. In 2012, Chris Johnson's illustrations were used in the children's book The Rock and Me, Immediately. Johnson also worked as a Medicare consultant for Humana.
Most recently, she began to develop talent for fused glasswork, which has been featured at galleries and events.
Poore, a retired editor, regards hers and Johnson's shared love of printing and typography as essential to the mix of interests and commitments that enriched their 34 years together. They met at a bookstore party on February 14, 1981, and never stopped talking shop.
"Printing on offset and letterpress machines, Chris was as good at repairs as she was at beautiful design," Poore recalled. "Chris's generous heart, strong endurance, and amazing range of talents exemplify the qualities that made her so beloved and respected. Her superb sense of humor and matchless intelligence are among the daily delights I shall miss most. I have never ceased to be inspired by her exampleand by the beautifully unique person she was. She inspires me still, and always will."
One longtime friend from her Chicago years, Chris Straayer, said that through the decades, "Chris's and my motto, always spoken with great gusto and humor, was: 'Instant Success!' This indicated an approach more than a conclusion because, although her amazing talent helped, Chris worked very hard for everything she got in life. Even more impressive is how hard she worked to help others. Instant generosity."
Lynn Hull worked with Johnson on various projects. She said: "Chris and I will never 'double dyke 'em' again at the Metropolitan Sanitary Districtbeing there together was the only thing that saved our skins and helped us make it through five grueling years … . No more 'Wild Thymes' while producing [the book] Bernice, or designing solstice cards and printing them on Pearl, a Victorian cast-iron clamshell press. No more triumphs and tribulations at Chicago Women in Trades."
Marie J. Kuda also sent her memories of working with Johnson: "I first met Chris Johnson at one of the first Lesbian Writers' Conferences and wound up together at the iconic Women-in-Print Conference in Nebraska in 1976. She went on to organize subsequent conferences. Thereafter our paths crossed occasionally for varying amounts of timewe worked together at the De Paul University Library for four years in the 1980s. De Paul was just converting their catalog from cards to online and as I recall Chris was so diligent and put in so much time on the project that she got carpal tunnel syndrome and ended up in wrist brace.
"When Chris partnered with Nancy Poore, co-founder of letterpress work with Helaine Victoria Press, our mutual friend Pat LaBelle obtained a letterpress for Metis. When my partner of 23 years, Shirley Rissmann, bought a small house Chris came out and for the better part of a day ( without charge ) went over everything for us to prioritize the maintenance and repairs neededby this time she had her contracting and rehab business underway. The last contact I had with her since I am in a nursing home was her aid to me in working through the mazes of Humana, a healthcare firm she worked for. Chris was a rare and versatile person who could always be relied on. I have lost a friend and advisorshe will be sorely missed."
Another of Johnson's long-time friends, Jeanne Baker, recalled their many camping and hiking trips, especially in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. "She loved nature, and really enjoyed being among the trees and wild flowers, walking long trails, and spending time with her friends," Baker said.
In addition to partner Nancy Poore, Johnson is survived by two sisters, Anne and Linda, and a brother, Mark. She also is missed by close friends, including Chris Straayer, Joyce Bolinger, Lavina Tomer, Jeanne Baker, Carol Pastor, Robin Hardy, Holly Smith, Cheryl Miller, Jean Albright, Tracy Baim, and Paul Baker.
Johnson is interviewed on the Chicago Gay History Project website, here:chicagogayhistory.org/biography.html .
Donations can be made to the animal charity of your choice, the Chicago Women's Health Center, or preservation of the Smoky Mountains.