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 Cecile Ryden Johnson  (1916 - 2010)

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Lived/Active: New York/Minnesota      Known for: sport action figures, landscape painting

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Ad Code: 4
Cecile Ryden Johnson
15 1/2" x 11 1/2"
Photo provided by Raymond Matta
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Obituary, posted on the Society of Illustrators Bulletin Board:

Cecile Ryden Johnson, AWS, an internationally known painter of the winter Olympic Games, sports and exotic landscapes, passed away quietly after a long illness on the 26th of November 2010 surrounded by family and friends at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.

Her watercolors reflect a spontaneous joy of life and are prized for their luminous qualities, sense of immediacy, power and intensity.  She was commissioned to paint live action portraits of athletes from Bjorn Borg to Jean-Claude Killy, Billy Jean King, Steve and Phil Mahre as well as sporting events including the US Open, the Kentucky Derby and the Olympic hockey game between the USA and the USSR at Lake Placid in 1980.  Selected as the official artist to paint five winter Olympic Games, Ms. Johnson was frequently broadcast live painting on the slopes and at rink side by ABC Wide World of Sports, Canadian Broadcasting, the BBC, CNN and other networks.

Her New York studio was at the fabled Hotel des Artistes, but she almost invariably painted on location - traveling across the United States, the Caribbean and around the world to capture landscapes both familiar and distant.  She distilled the beauty of cities in Europe and Japan and remote locations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, winning gold medals at major exhibitions, including the annual show of the American Watercolor Society.  She painted every major ski mountain in the United States, published as the Memorable Mountains Series in Skiing Magazine and in 2007 was honored by the North American Snowsports Journalists Association with their lifetime achievement award.  She was the first woman to be commissioned by the U.S. Navy as a combat artist to paint the activities of WAVES, Women Marines and Navy nurses.

Primarily a watercolorist, she worked in other media as well.  She designed stained glass windows for the Children's Chapel in Chicago, and her design in gold of the Olympic torch set with a diamond was chosen by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Her work is held in many museum and private collections including those of King Gustav XVI of Sweden, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and Emperor Akihito of Japan.  Her paintings have been exhibited in many solo exhibitions and are widely reproduced as fine art prints. She was elected to the boards of the American Watercolor Society and the National Art Museum of Sport.

Born in a blizzard in Jamestown on March 4, 1916, Ms. Johnson always retained a love of love of snow and winter sports. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago and at Augustana and Macalaster Colleges.  She began her professional career as a painter in southern California, where she studied with the renowned painter Millard Sheets, learning the techniques of luminous, open-air watercolor painting and a contemporary sensibility to color and composition.  She accompanied her husband, the Rev. Dr. Philip A. Johnson, a Lutheran minister, to Chicago, Illinois in the nineteen fifites where she supported his landmark work integrating the first Protestant church on Chicago's south side, Salem Lutheran Church, a period that was chronicled in his book, Call me Neighbor, Call me Friend. ("Philip Johnson, 75, Pastor Who Pressed for Social Harmony," New York Times, January 8, 1991.) Following Dr. Johnson's death, she married lawyer Henry L. Pierson of Sloatsburg, New York.

Ms. Johnson is survived by her daughter Dr. Pamela Johnson of Washington, DC, her son Stevan Johnson of Seattle, WA, her grandson Paul Meyer and two great grandchildren, Suraya Bergen and Talal Philip of New York City and brother Ernest Ryden and sister Hope Ryden.  Memorial services will be held Tuesday, December 28, 2010 at 11:30 at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street) in Manhattan.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A painter of sporting scenes, especially action figures such as skiers and swimmers, Cecile Johnson has done numerous watercolors reproduced in Skiing magazine and also of the winter Olympics.  She finds that painting competitive figures on site is similar to the excitement felt by the subjects she is depicting---there is only one chance to do it the way you want it done.

However, she does many other subjects besides sports including New England landscapes with wildlife, snowscenes, and views of the Caribbean, a place she especially loves.  She is widowed from Dr. Philip Johnson, a Lutheran bishop, and did much of her painting while traveling with him.

Cecile Johnson is from St. Paul, Minnesota.  She attended Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois and did summer study at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Her husband was a pastor in a Chicago church, and she took magazine illustration jobs in that city.  Then when he became a national church figure, the couple moved to New York where her illustration and easel-painting market widened as well.  Clients included TWA, the Bank of Bermuda and Equitable, and dignitaries began purchasing her paintings such as Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmie Carter, Emperor Akihito of Japan and King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden.

In 1999, a retrospective of her painting was held at the National Art Museum of Sport.  It was titled Through the Snow and Under the Sun.

Johnson is on the board of the American Watercolor Society and the Board of Trustees of the National Art Museum of Sport.


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