African-American Artist William H. Johnson Honored with New Stamp Today

Today the U.S. Postal Service issues a stamp in the honor of William H. Johnson (1901-1970), one of the nation’s foremost African-American artists and a major figure in 20th-century American art. He is best known for his dramatic Scandinavian landscapes and colorful, folk-inspired scenes of African-American daily life.

The stamp, which is the 11th in the American Treasures series, showcases Flowers (1939-1940), a bold oil-on-plywood rendering of brightly colored blooms on a small red table. The two-dimensional, 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.

William Henry Johnson was born March 18, 1901, in Florence, South Carolina. During his childhood he practiced drawing by copying comic strips from the newspaper. At the age of 17 he went to live with his uncle in Harlem. He worked at a variety of jobs before saving enough money to pay tuition at the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York City, where he was admitted in 1921. During the years he studied at the academy, Johnson took most of his classes from the noted painter Charles Webster Hawthorne, who became his mentor and friend. For three summers, Johnson also attended Hawthorne’s Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on a work/study arrangement.

Digital Color Postmark Keepsake (click to order)

In 1926, with funds raised by Hawthorne, Johnson left the U.S. to study modernism in Paris and in the south of France. In November 1929, he returned briefly to New York and set up a studio in Harlem. The following year he received the William E. Harmon Foundation’s gold medal for Distinguished Achievements Among Negroes in the Fine Arts Field.

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. During this period, Johnson’s work began to reflect his interest in primitivism and folk art.

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.

Inspired by Johnson’s life story, the William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts was established in 2001 to provide economic assistance to African-American artists early in their careers. In 2009, four of Johnson’s paintings were chosen for display in the White House. From 2011 through 2014, a Smithsonian traveling exhibition, “William H. Johnson: An American Modern,” will cross the country showcasing 20 works that highlight key stages in Johnson’s career.

The William H. Johnson stamp is being issued as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

Reminder: William H. Johnson Stamp Will Be Dedicated Wednesday

This is a reminder that the William H. Johnson commemorative stamp will be issued this Wednesday, April 11, at the Gilliam Concert Hall on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland. The ceremony will start at 11 a.m. and feature the Morgan State University Jazz Ensemble and the Morgan State University Choir. The stamp will be dedicated by Ronald A. Stroman, Deputy Postmaster General, U.S. Postal Service, and Marcellus Shepard of WEAA-FM (88.9) will serve as Master of Ceremonies. Will you be joining us?

Poets, Painters, & Performers: It Must Be April!

It’s April (really? already?), spring is blooming (well, just about everywhere), and we’ve got lots of stamp-related fun to look forward to! In honor of National Poetry Month we’ll be celebrating the release of the Twentieth-Century Poets stamps on April 21 with in-depth posts about all ten poets featured on the pane. Other First Day of Issue ceremonies this month include William H. Johnson (April 11), The Civil War: 1862 (April 24), José Ferrer (April 26), and Louisiana Statehood (April 30). Whew! We’re also “going green” for Earth Day (April 22) and gearing up for National Park Week (April 21 – 29). And we haven’t even mentioned the birthdays we’ll be celebrating this month. Won’t you join us? Tell your friends about USPS Stamp of Approval and leave a comment letting us know what you’d like us to cover this April. Happy stamping!

“Sylvia Plath”, n.d.
Photograph by Rollie McKenna
@ Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation

“Denise Levertov”, 1953
Photograph by Rollie McKenna
@ Rosalie Thorne McKenna Foundation
Courtesy Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation

“E. E. Cummings”, 1935
Photograph by Edward Weston
Collection Center for Creative Photography
@1981 Arizona Board of Regents

Happy Birthday, William H. Johnson!

“I myself feel like a primitive man, like one who is at the same time both a primitive and a cultured painter.”

—William H. Johnson

a

Born on March 18, 1901 in Florence, South Carolina, 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 went to live with his uncle in Harlem. He worked at a variety of jobs before saving enough money to pay tuition at the prestigious National Academy of Design in New York City, where he was admitted in 1921. During the years he studied at the academy, Johnson took most of his classes from the noted painter Charles Webster Hawthorne, who became his mentor and friend. For three summers, Johnson also attended Hawthorne’s Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts, on a work/study arrangement.

In 1926, with funds raised by Hawthorne, Johnson left the U.S. to study modernism in Paris and in the south of France. In November 1929, he returned briefly to New York and set up a studio in Harlem. The following year he received the William E. Harmon Foundation’s gold medal for Distinguished Achievements Among Negroes in the Fine Arts Field.

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. During this period, Johnson’s work began to reflect his interest in primitivism and folk art.

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.

Scheduled for issuance on April 11, the William H. Johnson stamp, featuring still-life Flowers, is being issued as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.

New Stamp in American Treasures Series Features African American Artist William H. Johnson

The 11th issuance in the American Treasures series will showcase a still life painting by William H. Johnson (1901-1970), one of our country’s foremost African American artists.

Isn’t it beautiful?!

Flowers, an oil-on-plywood painting dated 1939-1940, depicts a vase of boldly rendered, brightly colored blooms on a small red table. The two-dimensional, 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.

This is not the first time that one of Johnson’s paintings has appeared on a U.S. postage stamp. One of the stamps on the 2005 To Form A More Perfect Union pane featured a detail from “Training for War.”

In 2009, four of Johnson’s paintings were chosen for display in the White House. From 2011 through 2014, a Smithsonian traveling exhibition, “William H. Johnson: An American Modern,” will cross the country showcasing 20 works that highlight key stages in Johnson’s career.

The William H. Johnson stamp will be issued in April as a Forever® stamp. Forever stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail one-ounce rate.