William H. Johnson Statue

William H. Johnson statue

Location: Roy Adams Breezeway, 160 W. Evans St., Florence, SC 29506

William Henry Johnson was born in Florence, South Carolina in 1901. His father and mother were both African American, although it is possible that his mother, Alice, was also Native American, which would likely explain his racial ambiguity. His father, Henry Johnson, worked for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad, a key backbone to the Florence community, which allowed Johnson to travel to New York later in life. After their passing, his parents were buried in Union Cemetery, a spot you may have previously visited on this tour. 

As a child, Johnson attended Wilson High School on Athens Street, where he had a teacher, Louise Holmes, who often incorporated art into the curriculum. This, along with discarded newspapers that Johnson collected, was the foundation of his love for art. 

In pursuit of the craft, Johnson was quite the traveler. Throughout the 1920s, Johnson lived in Harlem, New York, studying under Charles Hawthorne before moving to Europe and spending time in countries like France, Denmark, and Belgium. While in Europe, he was known for his impressionist landscape and cityscape paintings. In 1930, at the age of 29, he moved briefly back to Florence, and while back in his hometown, Johnson painted many portraits. Three of those paintings can be found in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The paintings are named: Jim, Minnie, and Girl in a Green Dress.  The subjects of the paintings were notable black members of the Florence community. Of course, these portraits are only some of what he was known for. He also has landscape paintings that portray locations once found in Florence. Two of these paintings you might have already seen in the Florence County Museum are Jacobia Hotel and Landscape of a Setting Sun.

Before leaving Florence again, Johnson was encouraged to submit his work to the Harmon Foundation for Distinguished Achievements Among Negroes in the Fine Arts Field. He won the gold medal that same year. 

After leaving his hometown once again in the 1930s, he traveled even more with his new wife, Holcha Krake, a Danish artist. After visiting places like Scandinavia and North Africa, Johnson and his wife moved back to the United States in 1938 due to the increased tensions of World War II and the threats against the arts and artists. 

In 1944, his wife passed away in New York. Not long after her death, his health began to decline, both physically and emotionally. He then decided to return home for the first time in fourteen years, though his stay lasted only a month before he returned to Denmark. He was admitted to a hospital in Denmark before being transported back to a New York State Hospital. After being hospitalized for 23 years, Johnson passed away in 1970. 

Due to his long period of failing health, his fame as an artist decreased, and some of his paintings were almost destroyed in order to make more space in his family home. Luckily, his friends saved the paintings, which is why we are able to view them in the Florence County Museum and elsewhere. Johnson lived an incredible life of artistry and travel that is important to remember, especially since this very town was his birthplace. 

To visit this statue, we recommend you park in a designated parking area on the street and then walk to the Roy Adams breezeway.

To learn more about the William H. Johnson Statue visit the following website: