Born in 1901, William H. Johnson was a talented artist who became famous for his Scandinavian landscape paintings and “primitive” scenes of black life.
A South Carolina native and son of an African-American/Sioux woman and a white man, Johnson moved to New York in 1918 to study at the National Academy of Design. In 1926, he was passed over for a traveling scholarship because of his race. Considered one of the school’s most talented students, a teacher gave him $1000 to travel abroad.
Johnson would spend most of the next twelve years in Europe including France, Norway and Denmark. In 1930, he married a Danish artist, Holcha Krake.
Johnson returned to the U.S. in 1938 with his wife. When she died in 1944 of cancer, he returned to Europe only to return to New York three years later because of his own failing health. Johnson died in 1970 after being hospitalized for the last 20+ years of his life.
Today Johnson’s work is represented in many important collections, including National Museum of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; The Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina; Library of Congress, Washington, DC; and Kerteminde Museum/Johannes Larsen Museet, Denmark.
More information: William H. Johnson Foundation (provides grants to artists); biographical essay.
Mixed Experience History Month is the annual blog post series created by The New York Times best-selling author Heidi Durrow celebrating the history of the Mixed experience. Established in 2007, Mixed Experience History Month is an effort to highlight the long history of folks and events involved in the Mixed experience. Please look for more profiles of people, places and events of the Mixed experience every weekday of May! Thanks for reading. And check out some of the previous year’s profiles: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014. Copyright 2015.
NOTE: This is a repost from a previous year as I re-visit the Afro-Danish connection for the first week of this month’s profiles.