William H. Johnson (American artist, 1901-1970)
William H. Johnson (1901-1970)

The William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts was established in 2001 in honor of William H. Johnson, an American artist known primarily for his Scandinavian landscapes and his witty and poignant depictions of African-American daily life.

Recognizing that minority artists often need economic assistance the foundation seeks to encourage artists early in their careers by offering financial grants. To that end, the foundation is accepting applications for the 2013 William H. Johnson Prize. The deadline for applications is September 23, 2013.

The Johnson Prize is awarded annually to an early career African-American artist working in the areas of painting, photography, sculpture, printmaking, installation, and/or new genres. The 2012 prize winner was Clifford Owens. Deborah Grant won in 2011. Karyn Olivier won in 2010. Sanford Biggers won in 2009.

For award purposes, “early career” is a flexible term that should be interpreted liberally to include artists who have finished their academic work within twelve years from the year that the prize is awarded. For example, a person who finished their studies in 1999 is eligible to apply in 2011, but not in 2012. Age is not determinative, and artists who have not earned BFAs or MFAs are still eligible so long as they have not been working as an artist for more than twelve years.

The 2013 Johnson Prize recipient will receive $25,000. The winner will be announced in December 2013.

For complete program guidelines, application instructions, and information about previous winners, see the William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts Web site.

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 was not a self-taught or outsider artist. At age 17, Johnson moved to New York City, where he supported himself by working as a cook, hotel porter, and stevedore. In September 1921, he enrolled at the School of the National Academy of Design (NAD). Between 1923-1926, during the academic year he studied with Charles W. Hawthorne at the NAD and during the summers at The Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

William H. Johnson (American artist, 1901-1970) Farm Couple at Well 1939-40 Print
William H. Johnson (American artist, 1901-1970) Farm Couple at Well 1939-40 Print
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