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William H. Johnson papers, 1922-1971, bulk 1926-1956

William H. Johnson papers, 1922-1971, bulk 1926-1956

Johnson, William H. (William Henry), 1901-1970

Painter, Educator, Printmaker

The papers of William H. (William Henry) Johnson in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2010. The bulk of the papers have been scanned and total 713 images.

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 1.3 linear ft.

Summary: The papers of African American painter William H. Johnson date from 1922 to 1971, with the bulk of the material dating from 1926 to 1956, and measure 1.3 linear feet. The collection documents Johnson's career as an artist in New York and in Europe and his marriage to textile artist Holcha Krake through scattered biographical material, including eight letters regarding the sale and exhibition of his work. Also found are exhibition catalogs, news clippings, other printed material, and photographs of Johnson, Krake, and their artwork. One scrapbook contains news clippings, letters, and additional photographs. Another scrapbook contains travel postcards. Also found are a few scattered records and research notes compiled by the Harmon Foundation regarding William H. Johnson.

Biographical/Historical Note

William H. Johnson (1901-1970) was a painter, printmaker, typographer, and teacher from New York, N.Y.

Provenance

The materials were originally donated to the National Museum of American Art by the Harmon Foundation in 1982. NMAA subsequently transferred them to the Archives in 1982 and 1986.

Funding

Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

A Finding Aid to the William H. Johnson Papers,
1922-1971,
bulk 1926-1956
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.johnwill
Author
Finding aid prepared by Erin Corley
Biographical Note
William Henry Johnson (1901-1970) was born in Florence, South Carolina, in 1901. He moved to New York City in 1918, and from 1921 to 1926 he attended the National Academy of Design, studying with Charles Hawthorne, and attending Hawthorne's summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts. As a student he won many awards for his paintings but failed to win a traveling scholarship to Europe. Hawthorne and others believed there may have been some prejudice in this decision and raised money for Johnson to study abroad. From 1926 to 1929 he lived in Paris and southern France. While in Paris he lived and worked in Whistler's old studio and met African American expatriate painter, Henry Ossawa Tanner. He lived briefly in Harlem, New York, in 1930 and exhibited in the Harmon Foundation's exhibition of work by African American artists in which he won the Gold Award for "Distinguished Achievement among Negroes".
In late 1930 Johnson moved to Kerteminde, Denmark, where he married textile artist Holcha Krake whom he had met in Paris. In 1933 they traveled to Germany, France, and Tunisia, which had a great impact on his work. From 1935 to 1938 they lived in various parts of Norway, and Johnson met artist Edvard Munch.
In 1938 Johnson and his wife moved back to New York City. The next year he briefly joined the WPA Federal Art Project as a painting teacher at the Harlem Community Art Center. Johnson had his first solo exhibition in New York at the Alma Reed Gallery in 1941. After Holcha Krake's death in 1944, Johnson began showing signs of mental illness. He lived briefly in Florence, South Carolina, and in 1946 returned to Denmark. He was hospitalized in Norway in 1947 and was then transferred to the Central Islip State Hospital in New York where he spent the next 23 years, until his death in 1970.
In 1956 the Harmon Foundation acquired over a thousand of Johnson's works that were still among his estate. The foundation ceased operations in 1967.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into 5 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1922-1967 (Box 1, 3; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 2: Printed Material, 1928-1971 (Box 1-3; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 3: Photographs, circa 1923-1940s (Box 2-3; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 4: Scrapbooks, 1920s-1947 (Box 2-4; 0.4 linear feet)
Series 5: Harmon Foundation Research Materials Regarding William H. Johnson, 1950s (Box 2, OV 5; 0.2 linear feet)
Scope and Content Note
The papers of African American painter William H. Johnson date from 1922 to 1971, with the bulk of the material dating from 1926 to 1956, and measure 1.3 linear feet. The collection documents Johnson's career as an artist in New York and in Europe and his marriage to textile artist Holcha Krake through scattered biographical material, including eight letters regarding the sale and exhibition of his work. Also found are exhibition catalogs, news clippings, other printed material, and photographs of Johnson, Krake, and their artwork. One scrapbook contains news clippings, letters, and additional photographs. Another scrapbook contains travel postcards. Also found are a few scattered records and research notes compiled by the Harmon Foundation regarding William H. Johnson.
Scattered biographical material includes biographical sketches, a marriage certificate, award certificates from the National Academy of Design, lists of artwork, and the guestbook from Johnson's 1941 exhibition at the Alma Reed Gallery. Also found are eight letters regarding the sale and exhibition of his work, including a letter from Langston Hughes and two letters from Alonzo Aden of the Barnett Aden Gallery.
Printed material consists of exhibition catalogs, U.S. and foreign news clippings, and other materials, primarily published by the Harmon Foundation regarding African American art. Photographs are of Johnson, Johnson with Krake in their studio, Johnson with friends in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and of Johnson's artwork.
The collection includes two scrapbooks, one containing news clippings, exhibition materials, letters from Charles Hawthorne, Edith Halpert, Karl Nierendorf, and others, and photographs of Johnson and his artwork. Additional items from the scrapbook may have became detached at an earlier date and included among the material in other series. The second scrapbook contains Johnson's postcard collection from his travels in Europe.
Also found are scattered records and research material of the Harmon Foundation regarding William H. Johnson consisting of exhibition panels displaying original photographs of Johnson and his artwork, as well as translations and notes concerning the foreign news clippings found in the William H. Johnson papers.
Provenance
The materials were originally donated to the National Museum of American Art by the Harmon Foundation in 1982. NMAA subsequently transferred them to the Archives in 1982 and 1986.
Processing Information
Portions of the collection received a preliminary level of processing after donation, and were microfilmed on reels 2678 and 3829. The papers were merged, fully processed, arranged, and described by Erin Corley in 2008 and digitized in 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of the papers have been digitized and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. A scrapbook of postcards and photocopies of foreign news clippings have not been scanned.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

William H. Johnson papers, 1922-1971, bulk 1926-1956. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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