William H. Johnson’s World on Paper Presented at the Amon Carter Museum

Release date: 
November 7, 2006

FORT WORTH, Texas --- From February 3 to April 8, 2007, the Amon Carter Museum presents William H. Johnson’s World on Paper, an exhibition organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum that for the first time closely examines the artist’s remarkable printmaking skills. The prints, many exhibited for the first time, reveal the African-American modernist to be as powerful with graphic media as he proved to be with oils and tempera. The bold, lively and colorful works mark Johnson as one of the most experimental printmakers of his generation, and a related group of vivid watercolors and temperas further demonstrates the breadth of his graphic expression on paper. Two of the Carter’s works from its collection of six of Johnson’s rare serigraphs will be featured in the exhibition.

“Johnson left a legacy of paintings, prints and drawings that ranges from European-inspired modernism to his own distinctive rhythms,” said Elizabeth Broun, Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Margaret and Terry Stent director. “His works on paper, in particular, testify to a restless imagination and powerful visual expression---hallmarks of an inspired American artist.”

Added Jane Myers, Amon Carter Museum senior curator of prints and drawings, “This exhibition presents a singular opportunity to experience on an intimate level Johnson’s highly personal and deeply felt subject matter.”

Approximately 60 relief prints, serigraphs and drawings from the Smithsonian’s permanent collection provide an overview of Johnson’s career, both in Europe in the 1930s and in New York in the 1940s. Among the varied subjects of his work are early landscapes of Denmark, Norway and North Africa; portraits of his neighbors in Denmark; scenes of life in Harlem and the rural South; religious subjects; and scenes of black enlisted men and female volunteers of World War II. These works are unlike any other prints made by American artists of Johnson’s generation. He adopted some of the most avant-garde aspects of modernist abstraction to transform his portraits, landscapes and figures into highly charged images.

About William H. Johnson

The career of William H. Johnson (1901--1970) was one of the most brilliant yet tragic of any early 20th-century American artist. Born in 1901 in Florence, S.C., to a poor family, he moved to New York at the age of 17. Working a variety of jobs, he saved enough money to pay for an art education at the prestigious National Academy of Design. Johnson worked with the painter Charles Hawthorne, who raised funds to send him abroad to study. He spent the late 1920s in France, absorbing the lessons of modernism. During this period, he married Danish artist Holcha Krake. The couple spent most of the 1930s in Scandinavia, where Johnson’s interest in folk art had a profound impact on his work. Returning with Holcha to the United States in 1938, Johnson immersed himself in African-American culture and traditions.

Although Johnson attained success as an artist in this country and abroad, financial security remained elusive. Following his wife’s death in 1944, Johnson’s physical and mental health deteriorated; he spent the final 23 years of his life in a state hospital in Long Island, N.Y. More than 1,000 paintings, watercolors and prints by Johnson were given to the Smithsonian American Art Museum by the Harmon Foundation after his death in 1970.

Following its run at the Carter, the exhibition travels to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (May 20–August 12, 2007) and the Montgomery Museum of Art in Montgomery, Ala. (September 15–November 18, 2007).

William H. Johnson’s World on Paper is organized and circulated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The exhibition tour is supported in part by the C. F. Foundation, Atlanta.

Public Programs

Admission is free.

Saturday, February 3, 11 a.m.
William H. Johnson in Print
Joann Moser, Senior Curator, Graphic Arts, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Moser will discuss the circumstances by which the William H. Johnson estate came to the Smithsonian American Art Museum; how his prints relate to his paintings and watercolors, as well as to the prints of his contemporaries; and the conservation issues and research challenges related to Johnson’s work.

Sunday, February 25, 1 to 4 p.m.
Family Funday
William Johnson’s Colorful World

Experience the vibrantly colorful paintings and prints of William H. Johnson. Hear about the artist at 2 p.m. when Gwen Everett reads from and signs her award-winning children’s book Li’l Sis and Uncle Willie. Create your own colorful world through hands-on art activities.

Family Fundays are made possible in part by Wortham-Fort Worth.

Exhibition Admission


Museum Hours

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Sunday: noon to 5 p.m.
Closed Monday and major holidays.