Game Plan: Clifton Johnson '80

By Cathy Tollefson '83


By the time Clifton Johnson ’80 arrived on the Puget Sound campus, he had served as a combat medic in Vietnam and an Army nurse for 10 years. He knew what he wanted from an education, and he complained soundly if professors failed to show up for class. That passion and drive continued after graduation: He went on to earn a Ph.D. in psychology and worked as a government behavioral psychologist for more than 25 years, often employing art therapy in his work.

The war in Southeast Asia was hard on Clif’s body. He has undergone nine major surgeries—five within the last six years—and he’s learned to live with pain. Since he doesn’t like television much, he spends his recuperation time making inventive art, lately concentrating on a series of ceramic chess sets. Drawing on his interest in archeology, each set’s 32 pieces is individually designed and employs the use of cultural symbolism. One of his award-winning sets, called “From Egyptians to Celtics—Games Across Cultures,” incorporates the Celtic cross found in Tutankhamun’s tomb. The Egyptian dog-god Anubis is the “knight” piece. Clif’s style is also influenced by time spent in Japan and Korea, where he lived and worked for most of his adult life.

His new book The Agony of Pain and War: Living with Chronic Pain and Suffering in Silence will be reviewed in the next Arches.