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William H. Johnson papers, 1922-1972, bulk 1926-1956

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

Painter, Printmaker, Educator

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: 1.5 Linear feet

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 1.5 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 - one from Langston Hughes and two are from Alonzo Aden of the Barnett Aden Gallery. 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 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".


The William H. Johnson papers were originally donated to the National Museum of American Art (Smithsonian American Art Museum) by the Harmon Foundation in 1982. The National Museum of American Art subsequently transferred them to the Archives of American Art in 1982 and 1986.

Language Note

The papers are in English, Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish.


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