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Grace Johnson

 (1882 - 1967)
Grace Mott Johnson was active/lived in New York.  Grace Johnson is known for naturalist style animal sculpture.

Grace Johnson

Biography from the Archives of askART

Animal sculptor Grace Mott Johnson was born in New York City in 1882. She became noted for her artistic talents, but also was a "feminist, civil rights activist and utterly independent spirit". (Niederman, 153). She insisted on being called by the single name of Johnson.

Her mother died, when Johnson was age two, and she was raised on a Yonkers farm by her father, a congregational minister who fell out with his congregation and withdrew to an isolated, independent life style.  Johnson was home schooled and grew up with the idea she could do anything a man could do. She loved the physical labor of the farm and also showed interest and talent in drawing. Her primary mode of transportation was her bicycle, and it was written that at age eighteen, she pedaled off to begin her life in New York City.

There she enrolled as a sculpture student at the Art Students League where her teachers were famous sculptors, Gutzon Borglum, James Earle Fraser and Hermon MacNeill.

Johnson usually sculpted her animal subjects from memory rather than using models or sketches, and bas relief with minimal surface detail was a common method for her.  She often visited farms and during summers followed traveling circuses to observe animals in motion.  Her desire to study Perchoron horses in Paris led her to that city in 1910. She had married artist Andrew Dasburg the year before in London, and rebelling at the formality of a marriage ceremony, agreed to the vows only because Dasburg insisted. However, during most of their married years, they lived apart.

In Paris she and her husband had much exposure to modernists including Synchromist Morgan Russell and sculptor Jo Davidson. Dasburg's art was much influenced by this experience, and he remained in Paris much longer than his wife, who sticking to her own instinct's, kept to a realistic or traditional style. The couple spent time in Taos, New Mexico in the early 1920s, and they were often in the company of Mabel Dodge Lujan, the famous 'queen' of the Taos Art Colony with whom Johnson had a lot of tension because of not conforming to Lujan's expectations.

After the 1922 divorce from Dasburg, Johnson, who had a son named Albert, never married again.  In 1924, she traveled in Egypt so that she could study the motion and anatomy of camels.

During her career, her work was exhibited at numerous venues including a low-relief bronze frieze of four walking chimpanzees in the famous New York City 1913 Armory Show where European modernism was introduced en masse to America.  She showed at the Grand Central Galleries, New York City; and was a member there of the National Sculpture Society and the National Association of Women Painters and the Sculptors, winning their Macmillan Prize for exhibited sculpture in 1917, and, in 1927, their Joan of Arc Medal.

Johnson became a Civil Rights activist in the 1930s, and for the last two decades of her life, she did very little sculpture. Among her accomplishments was desegregation including some of New York's beaches such as Jones Beach where she took black friends as her companions. She also made a point of staying in hotels in Harlem, in an era where few white people took lodging. Among her good friends were liberals such as Walter Lippmann, Louise Bryant and John Reed.

Eccentric and unfocused on traditional female behavior, "Johnson believed women's clothes were unfit to wear because they lacked sufficient pockets.  Consequently she always dressed in a tattered old brown sweater, which we may assume, had enough pockets to suit her." (Niederman, 154).

Grace Mott Johnson died on March 12, 1967. After her divorce from Dasburg, she lived in the family home in Yonkers, and then moved to Pleasantville, New York in 1927.

Her work is in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, among others.  Nine volumes of her diaries are in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

Sharon Niederman, "Grace Mott Johnson, Two Weeks in New Mexico", A Quilt of Words
Jules and Nancy Heller, North American Women Artists of the 20th Century
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

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About  Grace Johnson

Born:  1882 - New York City
Died:   1967
Known for:  naturalist style animal sculpture