By Kent Larsen
Mormon Artist 'Snell' Johnson Dies
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA -- Mormon artist Snellan Maurice "Snell" Johnson,
who turned his life around to become a renowned artist after serving
five years in prison for fraud, died Saturday in Scottsdale at age
62. Johnson was described as a post-modern pop culture artist whose
works include the bronze lion outside the MGM Grand Hotel in Las
Vegas (the largest bronze statue in the Western Hemisphere) and the
18-foot bronze clock in Salt Lake City that is counting down the time
until the start of the 2002 Winter Olympics.
In the 12 years since his release from prison, Johnson created more
than 500 bronze statues, including 350 that are life-sized or larger.
The topics of his statues include horses, American Indians and other
human figures. Also well-known among his works are a bronze statue at
the Stratosphere Tower and a massive horse and chariot at Caesars'
Gauteng, South Africa.
Johnson was born in the tiny Utah town of Myton, located in the heart
of the Navajo reservation. He grew up in poverty (his family didn't
have electricity until he was 13), leading him to create artwork as
one of his principal sources of entertainment. While not a Native
American, Johnson said that the Navajos had a profound influence on
After growing up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, Johnson served a mission and attended both BYU and
the University of Utah before becoming an insurance salesman in Utah.
But in 1979 he was convicted of giving false information for a bank
loan and then four years later of 30 counts of securities, wire and
mail fraud for bilking investors in a satellite navigation company
out of $2 million. Sentenced to 25 years in prison, he served five
before being released.
At that point his life changed radically. Johnson decided to return
to creating artwork, relying on his self-developed talent to provide
large-scale bronze statues for prominent buildings and locations. In
this he found success on a scale he hadn't reached before prison,
selling his work for upwards of $400,000, while creating statues at a
rate of better than three a month.
Creator of MGM Grand's lion, Johnson dies at 62
Las Vegas NV Sun 22Mar01 A2
By Ed Koch: Las Vegas Sun
Bronze Sculpture by Snell Johnson