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Ellen Hulda Johnson papers, 1872-1994, bulk 1921-1992

Ellen Hulda Johnson papers, 1872-1994, bulk 1921-1992

Johnson, Ellen H. (Ellen Hulda), 1910-1992

Curator, Librarian, Art historian, Educator, Art critic

Collection Information

Size: 55.3 linear feet

Summary: The papers of art historian, art critic, author, librarian, and educator Ellen Hulda Johnson measure 55.3 linear feet and date from 1872-1994, with the bulk of the material dating from 1921-1992. The papers include biographical materials; personal and family files; personal, professional, and business correspondence; extensive research and writing files; teaching files; subject files; professional and curatorial files; and artists' files. Johnson's papers reflect the full range of her career, interests, and close relationships with many artists.

Personal papers consist of biographical materials and personal and family files, including "memorabilia" files compiled by Johnson. Correspondence is a mix of personal, business, and professional correspondence. Significant correspondents include David Saunders (who painted a portrait of Johnson), Claes Oldenburg, Jack Tworkov, Robert Venturi, the American Scandinavian Foundation. A folder of correspondence compiled for the Archives includes letters from Alfred Stieglitz, Wendell Wilkie, Carl Milles, Jim Dine, and Alexander Archipenko.

Extensive and comprehensive writing and research project files include articles, lectures, presentations, manuscripts, notes and notebooks, including her class notebooks from courses she attended in Paris in 1935, and additional notes and notebooks on a wide variety of subjects. The numerous articles, lectures, papers, and drafts were written primarily by Johnson for the College Art Association, the Allen Memorial Art Museum bulletin, and numerous additional publications and presentations; but there are also writings by others included in the research files. Major writing projects and related research files cover Scandinavian art, the Ossabaw Island artist's colony, Cezanne, Eva Hesse, John Frederick Kensett, Claes Oldenburg, Picasso, David Saunders, Athena Tacha, Pop Art, and many other topics. Johnson's research files, manuscripts, correspondence, and photographs for major exhibitions, including one on Eva Hesse (1982) and for her published books including, "American Artists on Art from 1940-1980," (1982), "Claes Oldenburg," (1971), "Fragments Recalled at 80: The Art Memoirs of Ellen H. Johnson," (1993), and "Modern Art and Object," (1976) are also arranged in this series. Johnson's bibliographic index cards are arranged here as well.

The collection also contains extensive teaching files for courses taught by Johnson at Oberlin and as a visiting professor at other institutions; professional and curatorial files reflecting her curatorial career at Allen Memorial Art Museum, as a consultant, jury member, and continuing education courses she later attended, including the Baldwin Lecture Series; and 18 linear feet of artist's files assembled by Johnson.

Biographical/Historical Note

Ellen Hulda Johnson (1910-1992) was an art historian, critic, and professor who worked and taught at Oberlin College in Ohio for most of her career.


The Ellen Hulda Johnson papers were donated in 1994 and 1998 by the estate of Ellen Hulda Johnson via exectutor Athena Tacha.

Related Materials


Funding for the processing of this collection was provided by the Smithsonian's Collection Care and Preservation Fund.

A Finding Aid to the Ellen Hulda Johnson Papers, 1872-1994, bulk 1921-1992, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical/Historical note
Ellen Hulda Johnson (1910-1992) was an art historian, critic, and professor who worked and taught at Oberlin College in Ohio for most of her career.
Ellen Hulda Johnson was born in 1910 in Warren, Pennsylvania. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in art history at Oberlin in 1933 and 1935. She worked briefly at the Toledo Museum of Art before returning to Oberlin as the art librarian. In 1940 she started Oberlin's art rental program, the first of its kind in the country. She was appointed to the faculty in 1948 and taught nineteenth and twentieth century art, American art from colonial times to the present, contemporary art, and Scandinavian art. She was a member of the Allen Memorial Art Museum's acquisition committee and appointed honorary curator of modern art in 1973. She remained at Oberlin her entire career, retiring from teaching in 1977.
Johnson was a scholar of Cézanne, Claes Oldenburg, Eva Hesse, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, John F. Kensett and other modern masters, as well as Scandinavian art. In 1962 she wrote the first important article on Claes Oldenburg and, in 1970, assisted curator Athena Tacha commission his first permanent large sculpture (
3-Way Plug
) for the grounds of the Allen Memorial Art Museum. She was the first to show the black-striped paintings that established Frank Stella's reputation. Her efforts in promoting acquisitions of young contemporary artists helped make the Allen Memorial Art Museum a leading institution in contemporary art. Her Oberlin lectures on modern art became so popular that they had to be held in the college's largest auditorium and influenced generations of students, many of whom went on to signficant positions in the field. A new wing of the museum designed by Robert Venturi opened in 1977 and was named in honor of Johnson.
Johnson was the author of numerous articles, books, and exhibition catalogs including
(Penquin, 1967);
Claes Oldenburg
(Penquin, 1971);
American Artists on Art from 1940-1980
(Harper and Row, 1982); and
Modern Art and the Object
(Thames and Hudson, 1976).
In 1968, Johnson purchased the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Weltzheimer house in Oberlin, and spent a considerable part of her time and money restoring the building where she lived the rest of her life. She bequethed the house and her significant art collection to Oberlin upon her death in 1992.
Arrangement note
The Ellen Hulda Johnson papers are arranged into seven series:
Series 1: Personal Papers, 1910-1994 (2 linear feet; Boxes 1-2, 56)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1937-1992 (4.5 linear feet; Boxes 3-7)
Series 3: Writing and Research Projects, 1872, 1932-1994 (13.5 linear feet; Boxes 7-20, 56)
Series 4: Subject Files, 1930-1993 (5 linear feet; Boxes 21-25)
Series 5: Teaching Files, 1928-1989 (6 linear feet; Boxes 26-31)
Series 6: Professional and Curatorial Files, 1936-1991 (6 linear feet; Boxes 32-37, 56)
Series 7: Artists Files, 1935-1992 (18.3 linear feet; Boxes 37-55)
The Ellen Hulda Johnson papers were donated in 1994 and 1998 by the estate of Ellen Hulda Johnson via exectutor Athena Tacha.
Processing Information note
The collection was processed to a preliminary level and a box inventory created by Kym Wheeler in 1994. The collection was further minimally processed and preserved by Kelly Nolte in 2015 with funding provided by the Smithsonian's Collections Care and Preservation Fund. The Archives of American Art has implemented accelerated processing strategies when possible in order to increase information about and access to more of our holdings.
The papers were arranged to the series, subseries, and file level. Generally, items within folders were simply verified against original folder titles. The papers were re-housed in archival containers and folders, but further preservation work was not completed. The finding aid was created by Kelly Nolte and Barbara Aikens.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Washington D.C. Center. Use of archival audiovisual recordings with no duplicate access copy requires advance notice. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Ellen Hulda Johnson papers, 1872-1994, bulk 1921-1992. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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