The Trustees of the Florence Museum and the United States Postal Service are proud to announce the circulation of a commemorative Forever® stamp honoring Florence, SC, native William H. Johnson, featuring still-life Flowers. A ceremony will be held at the Florence Museum on Wednesday, Apr. 11, 2012, beginning at 3:30pm. This free event is open to the public with a small reception and an opportunity to purchase marked first day of circulation envelopes. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.
Image courtesy of the United States Postal Service.
Flowers, an oil-on-plywood painting dated 1939-1940, depicts a vase of boldly rendered, brightly colored blooms on a small red table. The consciously “naive” style in which Flowers was painted was one of the many techniques of modernist abstraction and “primitive” art adapted by Johnson during his career. A gift of the Harmon Foundation, the painting belongs to the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
The Florence Museum has made a commitment to honor the life of William H. Johnson and to interpret his importance to our community and the art world. Currently the Museum exhibits five of his works representing distinct periods of the artist’s development. In May of 2012, the Florence County Museum will begin construction on its new facility in downtown Florence. Strengthening their commitment, the new facility will provide a larger opportunity to honor Johnson’s life, artistic contributions and heritage.
William H. Johnson (1901-1970)
Born on Mar. 18, 1901, in Florence, William Henry Johnson is one of our country’s foremost African-American artists. Recognized today as a major figure of 20th century American art, he is best known for his dramatic Scandinavian landscapes and colorful, folk-inspired scenes of African-American daily life.
During his childhood Johnson practiced drawing by copying comic strips from the newspaper. At the age of 17, he moved to Harlem where he worked a variety of jobs to save enough money to pay tuition at the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York City. Johnson was admitted to the Academy in 1921 and studied under the noted painter Charles Webster Hawthorne, who became his mentor and friend.
In 1926, with funds raised by Hawthorne, Johnson left the US to study modernism in Paris and in the south of France. He retuned to Florence, SC, that year to spend time with his friends and relatives. His mother was able to secure an art exhibit in the hallways at the Florence YMCA where she worked as a cook. This exhibit featured 135 paintings by Johnson and was open for one day. It was during this time period that Johnson submerged himself into what he calls Primitivism.
When asked why he had changed from more traditional forms of painting to his recent style Johnson answered: “It was not a change but a development. In all my years of painting, I have had one absorbing and inspiring idea, and have worked towards it with unyielding zeal: to give in simple and stark form – the story of the Negro as he has existed.”
In May 1930, Johnson moved to Denmark and married textile artist Holcha Krake, whom he had met in France. The couple first made their home in Kerteminde, a Danish fishing village, and later in Norway. For several years they exhibited jointly and traveled throughout Scandinavia, Europe, and North Africa.
In November 1938, the couple moved to New York City to escape impending war in Europe. Johnson joined the WPA Federal Art Project in May 1939 and was assigned to teach at the Harlem Community Art Center. In August of that year, he transferred to the WPA mural project. His first major solo exhibition in New York opened in May 1941.
Following his wife’s death in 1944, Johnson’s physical and mental health declined dramatically. He spent the last 23 years of his life in a mental institution on Long Island, where he died on April 13, 1970.
For further information contact the Florence Museum by calling 843/662-3351 or e-mail to (firstname.lastname@example.org).