"And she said, 'Oh, did I play?'"
Johnson can't remember that she was once married for 10 years, but she is capable of discussing abstract concepts. For instance, this is how she described to McCloskey the experience of guiding an airplane: "Flying is like dancing in the sky."
She can't identify U.S. landmarks or such iconic paintings as the "Mona Lisa." And yet she instantly recognizes her own artwork, whether it was drawn the previous day or before she fell ill.
A turning point occurred when Aline Johnson gave her sister a book of word puzzles in which recognizable words are hidden among a group of random letters. Lonni Sue Johnson was fascinated with the graphs and began to work them nonstop.
After temporarily running out of existing puzzles to solve, she began to create her own grids, several of which are on display at the Walters. Early grids contain just words grouped around a theme, such as foods beginning with the same letter. But in later grids, Johnson's thoughts become increasingly visual and abstract.
For instance, above a grid titled "Exaggeration," a horse capers, his Rapunzel-length tail a mixture of rainbow hues.
"Even though Lonni Sue Johnson is deeply amnesic and cannot remember much of her pre-illness life or even events that occur during a normal day, she is still fiercely creative," researcher Landau says. "Her work shines through, is as clever as ever, is complex and multifaceted, and always innovative."
Ideas and memories for Johnson may be elusive, buzzing things, but she isn't about to let them fly away. She's determined to wrestle them into submission, to tack them into place with her pencil on a blueprint made from paper.
Isn't that what all artists do?
If you go
"Puzzles of the Brain: An Artist's Journey Through Amnesia" runs Saturday through Dec. 11 at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St. Free. For information, call 410-547-9000 or go to http://www.thewalters.org.