The Valentine's Day observance on Sunday is traditionally a time of flowers, candy and cards.

It is the latter holiday element, though, that stays intact long after the flower petals fall and the candy is devoured. The special Valentine cards often end up tucked into family photograph and memory albums.

Going beyond a nostalgic keepsake, though, is the collectible, fancy and sometimes one-of-a-kind card.

Those were the card types that brought fame a century ago to a woman who specialized in creating unique and highly valued artistic versions of the Valentine's Day missives.

And, she was born in Oil City and went on to be known as the "Valentine Lady" for her detailed and elaborate holiday cards.

Juvia Johnson, born in 1872 in Oil City, was the daughter of Charles Cooper Johnson and Marian Cochran Johnson. Her father was described in early business listings as an oil dealer.

When she was eight years old, Juvia moved with her family to Meadville where she graduated from high school.

With her family's support, she began taking art courses at the Academy of Design in New York in 1890. She completed her courses and eventually settled in Cleveland to pursue an art career.

It was during a time, according to a Feb. 8, 1976, article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, that "the acceptable occupations for refined young women were limited to school teaching and secretarial work."

Juvia soon expanded her Renaissance-styled artwork creations to include designs for the Christmas season. She opened her art studio on the top floor of the Republic Building in downtown Cleveland.

Valentines are featured

Among her first artistic creations were Valentine cards, and they caught the eye of Raphael Tuck & Sons of London, England. The family-owned company was famous for producing hand-colored postcards and greeting cards.

Her drawings of hearts and cupids soon evolved into more sophisticated holiday renditions, including a popular line of "naked cherubs bearing hearts," according to the Ohio Arts Council.

The London firm incorporated Juvia's artwork into a series of hand-colored postcards that, after being lithographed in Germany and then shipped back to Cleveland to be completed and marketed, were sold in shops across the U.S. Many of the pieces were hand colored by her staff, most of whom were women.

In 1912, she married Henry Wilson and the couple had a daughter, Virginia.

Working into her 80s, Juvia began creating ivory miniatures, placecard designs and party decorations. She died at the age of 94 in 1966.

Her valentine cards and illustrated postcards are now considered rare and typically fetch high prices.

Her art portfolio expanded to include other holidays, including Halloween, Thanksgiving and other special events over the years, and many are for sale in specialty shops and online. One of her small paper greeting cards, titled "Girl with Pie Dough," is listed for sale on the internet at $24.99.

Many of Juvia's vintage images are still reproduced on contemporary holiday cards, especially Valentine's Day cards.


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