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William H. Johnson

Gwendolyn H. Everett, assistant professor, department of art, Howard University. Gwendolyn H. Everett, scholar and author of the award-winning children's book Li'L Sis and Uncle Willie: A Story Based on the Life and Paintings of William H. Johnson, provides an overview of William Henry Johnson's (1901-1970) career as part of the Five African American Artists lecture series recorded on August 3, 2003. Everett traces Johnson's determination to become an artist, despite a humble upbringing in South Carolina, to his years at a segregated elementary school where art was not part of the formal curriculum. In 1918, during the first Great Migration, Johnson moved to New York to pursue artistic training unavailable in the South. While living in Harlem and working several jobs to support himself, he was accepted into the prestigious National Academy of Design. Noted watercolorist Charles Webster Hawthorne provided critical mentorship at the academy, hired Johnson to work at the Cape Cod School of Art, and sponsored his further training in Europe. Johnson supplemented this sponsorship with prizes awarded by the academy and funds earned working for Ashcan School painter George Luks. In 1920s Paris, Johnson lived in the former studio of James McNeill Whistler and became acquainted with Henry O. Tanner, an African American expatriate artist who had achieved international acclaim and who would become a pivotal figure in Johnson's rise to prominence. Follow along as Everett illustrates Johnson's journey—marked by determination, strengthened by hard work, and bolstered by the support of influential artists—that led him to become one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century.