Inspiration for painting and other arts comes from Grandma Alice and Cedar Hill Farm

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Jill Johnson uses natural items to make the varied products she offers, including gourds, heirloom seeds, essential oils, soaps and jams.

“My first paint job was the side of my mom and dad’s red brick house,” said Jill Johnson. “My more recent paintings have been more in demand and have sold at farmers’ markets.”
It was Johnson’s grandma, Alice Pantzke, who got her started. “She did oil painting. She loved to do murals, so the fuel oil tank and the garage door were painted,” Johnson said.
“She was very instrumental in making sure I painted,” said Johnson. “She gave me supplies when I was about 12, and showed me techniques.”
“I also had really good art teachers, Ren Holland and Dennis Bellig; they were very encouraging,” Johnson said. “I went in during study hall and they would provide anything necessary for anything I wanted to work on.”
Johnson’s cousin Lynette Gessell drew some comparisons between Johnson and their grandma Alice. “They both have an artist’s flair and a uniqueness,” Gessell said. “They both have a genuine spirit, personality and live a life true to who they are.”
Johnson majored in art education at St. Cloud State University. She has used that training in a number of ways. “I have had a long and varied career, working in graphic arts in different places,” said Johnson.
“One year Jill sent out hand-painted Christmas cards,” said Gessell. “They were very nice.”
Cousin Steve Pantzke said, “Jill is an artist like Grandma, with a similar style.”
Johnson takes much of her inspiration from nature at Cedar Hill Farm in rural Rice where she lives with Steve Karnopp. “I like to work outside whenever possible,” said Johnson.
Gourds that she raises lend themselves to a variety of applications. “The markings on them suggest what might be painted,” Johnson said. “Some might be painted, some might have macrame on the gourd openings and others might have poems and writings burned into them.”
In addition to painting, Johnson spends much more of her time in her gardens. That too is part of her heritage. “Grandma was an avid gardener,” Gessell said. “Jill definitely inherited her green thumb.”
Johnson raises berries for making jellies and preserves to sell at market since she came to Cedar Hill in about 2003. “I started with Nanking cherry bushes and then added strawberries,” she said. “We’re constantly starting berry plants and fruit trees. We now have strawberries, cherries, elderberries, chokecherries, melons, apples, peaches, plums and currants.”
In 2006, Johnson and Karnopp were chosen as finalists in three categories of the first Gallo Family Vineyards Gold Medal Award Program, according to a company press release. This program honors and promotes artisanal excellence of small family farm food production in the United States. The three winning categories were: 1) outstanding fruit or vegetable for Gourmet Filet Pickled Baby Beans; 2) outstanding oils and vinegars for Gourmet Aged Parsley Infused Vinegar; and 3) outstanding condiment for Gourmet Husk Cherry Preserves.
Ninety percent of the produce that Johnson and Karnopp raise are heirloom varieties of vegetables, from which they harvest the seed. “We select produce according to good taste and hardiness for our area,” said Johnson. “These have more flavor than hybrids.”
In addition to jellies, preserves, and heirloom seed packets, Johnson also offers hand crafted essential oils and handmade soaps. “There was interest at last year’s market in St. Joseph, so I have been putting oils into some of the soaps,” Johnson said.
Cedar Hill Farm will have products for sale at both the St. Joseph and Cold Spring Farmers’ Markets this year. Examples of Johnson’s artwork and heirloom seed varieties available can be found online at:,, and