Special Collections has acquired an important collection of artwork, papers, and artifacts documenting the life and artistry of Mary Olmsted Johnson (1890-1950). It is a trove for researchers studying social realism, art created during the period of the Great Depression in the United States, and the impact and influence of women artists. Johnson was born in Michigan and later in her life resided on Long Island. Educated at the Chicago Art Institute and the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts in St. Tropez, among the educational institutions where she taught were the University of Michigan, the Dalton School, and the Art Students League of New York. An extremely versatile and gifted artist, Johnson’s works include charcoal drawings of animals, fine watercolors of family members, and bold oil paintings documenting the economic hardships experienced by Americans in the 1930s.
Johnson’s daughter, Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello, donated the collection to Special Collections, Stony Brook University Libraries. According to Ms. Ciccariello, the archive “represents her (Mary O. Johnson’s) contribution to the nearly 100 years of the struggle of women to be recognized or taken seriously as artists…Mary O. Johnson’s life represents one woman’s effort to fulfill her life-long commitment to paint and record what she saw, to record what really existed.”
The John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor is currently exhibiting Johnson’s works of art through March 30. The show was developed and curated by Ms. Ciccariello and features three paintings on loan from Special Collections. A history and catalog of Johnson’s works titled “The Spirit of Humanity” has been compiled and published by Ms. Ciccariello. Copies are located in the Main Stacks and in Special Collections (N6537 .J627 A4 2018).
The archival collection is currently being processed and will be open for research later this spring. All are invited to consult it. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives for more information.
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