William H. Johnson was an African-American artist best known for his paintings and prints of landscapes and portraits that depicted the experience of African Americans during the 1930’s and ‘40s. Johnson used a primitive style of painting in conjunction with what was considered a “folk” style, which consisted of the use of bright colors and two-dimensional figures. The Smithsonian American Art Museum considers Johnson a major American artist.
William was born on March 18, 1901 in Florence, South Carolina. He realized his dreams of becoming an artist at a young age, and at seventeen left home and settled in Harlem, New York. In his pursuit to be a cartoonist, his teacher at the National Academy of Design, Charles Webster Hawthorne, encouraged him to pursue painting instead of illustration. Hawthorne also raised money for Johnson to study abroad in Paris, France upon his graduation in 1926.
While in Paris, William H. Johnson was introduced to a greater variety of art and culture. After several years, he returned to the United States in 1930. Johnson produced hundreds of works during a virtuosic, and eclectic career which spanned several decades and several continents. It was only in recent years that his work began to receive the attention they deserves.
In honor of William H. Johnson, the City of Florence is pleased to have this statue homed in our downtown area for all to enjoy. The statue was designed and created by sculptor, Alex Palkovich. Alex is a native of the Ukraine, but made Florence home during his tenure as a CEO of GE Electric. Sculpting was a passion that began when he was 6 years old, and since his retirement from his full-time career, allowed a transition to full-time artist. Many of his works can be enjoyed throughout Florence to include the eagle which resides atop an obelisk over the Florence Veterans Park, a statue of Dr. Beck, which welcomes students at the Francis Marion University School of Health Sciences Building, as well as several other pieces which are treasured by the Florence community.