Home > Art, Music, Creativity, Misc > Black History Month – Artist – William Henry Johnson (March 18, 1901–1970)

Black History Month – Artist – William Henry Johnson (March 18, 1901–1970)












image from http://www.kiffecoco.com/2011/11/artfully-wednesday-william-h-johnson.html

An amazing man with a wide range of styles and talent. William Henry Johnson was born in Florence, South Carolina in 1901 to a poor family. He started copying the pictures in comic strips from the newspaper. A teacher at school saw his interest, and gave him some art supplies. He did leave school early to help support his family.

Going to Church











image from http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/art/pages/whjohnson.htm


William went to New York to study art and leave the south when he was 18 years old to stay with an uncle.   It took him a few years to work and save up enough money to go to art school National Academy of Design.  The owner helped him with tuition, mentorship, and jobs in the summer.  William received many awards for his work, but not the top prize of studying in Europe.  He felt that this was a problem of prejudice.

He did get to Europe on his own in 1926.  He met and was influenced by many great artists like Gaugin the Expressionist Chaim Soutine.  He still did not get the recognition that he felt that he deserved.  He met his Danish wife, Holcha Krake, who was  a weaving and ceramics artist.  They traveled to many great art museums around Europe.  He received a gold award from the Harmon Foundation for his work.

Near the end of 1929, he returned to South Carolina to show his mother the work that he had done.  Some of his work was exhibited locally.  When he was working on a painting of a local brothel, he was arrested for loitering.

They moved to New York city to escape the prejudice and danger during the Nazi era for a mixed race couple.  They had problems in New York getting jobs, and also experience negative attention and prejudice there.  He changed his painting style to “primitive”.

His wife died of breast cancer, and he was inconsolable.  He had been showing signs of instability even before that.

He returned to South Carolina in 1944 and painted his mother and family, and worked on paintings showing the historical aspects of southern black families.

William moved to Denmark to be with his wife’s family in 1946, but became confused and lost.  They sent him back to New York, where he was institutionalized for mental illness caused by syphilis.  He never painted, and passed away in 1970.

His art was donated to the collection that became part of the Smithsonian.











image from yama-bato.tumblr.com








Sally K Witt
Social Media and Ministry

  1. February 23, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you very much, Sally! I had never heard of him. I do like his art, and this article has made me want to investigate William Johnson further.


  2. February 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    This story is both sad and inspiring at once. The art pulls you into it. Thank you for sharing.

  3. February 24, 2012 at 12:49 am

    Reblogged this on txwikinger's blog.

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