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 William E. Johnson  (1925 - 2003)

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Lived/Active: New York/Colorado/Illinois      Known for: Old West genre, illustrator, sculptor

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Ad Code: 4
William E Johnson
An example of work by William E. Johnson
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following, submitted June 2005, is from Robert Parsons of Robert Parsons Fine Art, Taos, New Mexico.

William E. Johnson was a painter true to his roots. Depicting a historical view of the West in which he grew up became the basis of his life's work as an illustrator of the Old West. His early years were spent on ranches around Gunnison, Colorado, a scenic area which epitomized the romantic notions of the Old West.

It was in Gunnison that Johnson was to have the good fortune of meeting and studying under the legendary Harvey Dunn, one of the legendary Brandywine illustrators. During the summer of 1947, Dunn was teaching at the Western State College in Gunnison. This experience led Johnson to spend two years with Arthur Mitchell, a former student of Dunn's who was then heading up the art department at Trinidad State College in Trinidad Colorado.

His early work with two of America's great illustrators set a tone for the life work of Bill Johnson. He furthered his art studies by attending the Art Students League in 1949 and 1950 under the tutelage of Frank Reilly, a noted teacher of illustration art. This intensive period of study for Johnson culminated with graduation from the Art Center School of Design in Los Angeles in 1954.

William Johnson spent the next ten years as a commercial illustrator in New York City where the markets for the rapidly shrinking illustration field were centered. While working in New York , Johnson had the good fortune of meeting the "Saturday Evening Post" illustrator Harold von Schmidt, who became a close friend and mentor to Johnson for the remainder of his life. Von Schmidt's style of depicting the Old West was to become a guiding influence in the western paintings of Johnson.

In 1965, Bill Johnson left New York to go back to his home state of Colorado. Arthur Mitchell was retiring and Bill Johnson was to take his place as head of the art department at Trinidad State. Following in the footsteps of his former instructors was only natural for Bill Johnson. All of his major influences , Harvey Dunn, Arthur Mitchell, Frank Reilly, and Harold von Schmidt had, in addition to being great illustrators, been dedicated teachers.

However, teaching in the remote western town of Trinidad, Colorado, also had the effect of relegating Johnson to artistic obscurity. Described as somewhat cantankerous, Johnson preferred to sell his own work, which in a small Colorado town must have been quite limited. Now rediscovered, work from the estate of William E. Johnson stands on it's own as a tribute to the west in which he lived.

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