Fallen Through The Cracks – Black Artists in History: William Henry Johnson
William Henry Johnson
#FallenThroughTheCracks – William Henry Johnson was born on March 18, 1901, in Florence, South Carolina. He was a painter who worked with a variety of media, often just using the materials that were available on hand to create his work. His works emphasized vivid and vibrant colors alongside simplistic figures. His depictions of African-American culture were pulled from his upbringing in the rural South. He immersed himself in African-American culture and traditions, from realism to expressionism to constructing images that were represented by their folk art plainness. He moved to New York City at the age of 17 saving enough money to pay for classes at the National Academy of Design. In the fall of 1927, he moved to Paris, where he learned modernism, and had his first solo exhibition at the Students and Artists Club. He moved back to the U.S. in 1929 and fellow artists encouraged him to enter his work at the Harmon Foundation, and as a result, Johnson received the Harmon gold medal in fine arts.
Johnson ultimately found work as a teacher at the Harlem Community Art Center where he and other teachers instructed about 600 students per week meeting important Harlem artists such as Gwendolyn Knight. William Henry Johnson no longer painted after 1955 and died on April 13, 1970, in Central Islip, NY. The William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts was established in 2001 in honor of his 100th birthday and has awarded the William H. Johnson Prize annually to an early career African American artist. In 2012, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in Johnson’s honor, recognizing him as one of the nation’s foremost African-American artists and a major figure in 20th-century American art.
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