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A Private Collection
for Public Good

"Who can say what ignites a passion? Was it those three red roses frozen in blue? An awakened connection to one's geographical roots? Perhaps the familiarity of the road to Nebo? The nucleus of what was to become our collection was formed by such seemingly unrelated catalysts. Looking back, it was always the sense of place that drew George and me to beautiful pictures—pictures that capture not only the glorious landscape of the South, but that also enliven its unique culture and dynamic history."
~Susu Johnson, Chief Executive Officer

 

"Tell about the South."

Visualizing Southern History
Iconic Masterworks

Thomason_ThreeRoses_Reg.jpgWhat began as an interest in paintings by Carolina artists in 2002 has grown to encompass 1,200 objects with provenances that span the centuries and chronicle the cultural evolution of the American South.

Today, the Johnson Collection counts iconic masterworks among its holdings, as well as representative pieces by an astonishing depth and breadth of artists, native and visiting, whose lives and legacies form the foundation of Southern art history. From William D. Washington’s The Burial of Latané to Malvin Gray Johnson’s Roll Jordan Roll, the collection embraces the region’s rich history and confronts its complexities, past and present.

WithinDouglas_Reg.jpg the whole, particular curatorial constructs are of special interest. The contributions of women artists, ranging from Helen Maria Turner—only the fourth woman elected to full membership in the National Academy of Design in 1921—to Alma Woodsey Thomas—the first African American woman to have a solo exhibition at a major national museum in 1972—are accorded overdue attention, most notably in TJC's most recent publication and companion exhibition, Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection. Landmark works by American artists of African descent such as Benny AndrewsRomare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Aaron Douglas, William JohnsonLeo Twiggs, and Hale Woodruff pay homage to their makers' barrier-defying accomplishments. Modern paintings, prints, collages, and sculpture created by internationally renowned artists associated with the experimental arts enclave of Black Mountain College, including Josef Albers, Ruth Asawa, Ilya Bolotowsky, Elaine de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, and Robert Rauschenberg highlight the North Carolina school's geographic proximity to the collection's home.

Beyond Regionalism

Credited by The Magazine Antiques with staging a "quiet art historical revolution" and expanding "the meaning of regional," the Johnson Collection heralds the pivotal role that art of the South plays in the national narrative. To that end, the collection's ambitious publication and exhibition strategies extend far beyond a single city's limit or a territorial divide.

Since 2012, TJC has produced four significant scholarly books—thoroughly researched and beautifully illustrated investigations of Southern art time periods, artists, and themes: Romantic Spirits: Nineteenth Century Paintings of the South (2012); From New York to Nebo: The Artistic Journey of Eugene Thomason (2014); Scenic Impressions: Southern Interpretations from the Johnson Collection (2015); and Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection (2018). These volumes are accompanied by traveling exhibitions that have been loaned without fee to partner museums with a combined annual attendance of over 1.2 million visitors. 

Smaller curated presentations rotate at the collection's hometown exhibtion space, TJC Gallery. Individual objects are regularly made available for critical exhibitions such as Outliers and American Vanguard Art, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957, and Bold, Cautious, True: Walt Whitman and American Art of the Civil War Era and featured in important publications and catalogues, including The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Art & Architecture and The Civil War and American Art.

In 2016, the state of South Carolina honored the collection with the Governor’s Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award, its highest arts distinction. The commendation paid tribute to the Johnson family's enduring contributions: "Equally dedicated to arts advancement and arts accessibility, the Johnsons generously share their vision, energy, passion and resources to benefit the arts in South Carolina."

The Art of Education

DSC_0500.jpgEducation is a core collection value, both in and beyond the classroom. Collaborations with institutions of higher learning include faculty support and internship opportunties for students at Spartanburg's two liberal arts colleges,  Converse College and Wofford College. Artwork from the collection is on display on these campuses, as well as the University of South Carolina Upstate’s George D. Johnson, Jr. College of Business and Economics. A paid residential post-graduate fellowship offers emerging scholars hands-on research and curatorial experience.

An annual educational symposium, Voices in American Art, brings prominent arts professionals from across the country to Spartanburg for lectures designed to engage lay audiences. Informal monthly talks enlighten the rotating exhibitions installed at TJC Gallery, our downtown exhibition space which is open to the public each week and during the city's monthly ArtWalk.

Cultural Stewardship

Susan (Susu) Phifer Johnson and George Dean Johnson, Jr. are passionate philanthropists committed to enhancing the educational environment and cultural vibrancy of their hometown, state, and region.

Susu Johnson, the collection's chief executive officer, is a champion of women's capacities and contributions. An alumna and life trustee of Converse College, she is an active community advocate currently serving on the leadership board of Spartanburg Academic Movement (SAM) and Girl Scouts of South Carolina Midlands to Mountains. Most recently, she spearheaded the establishment of Meeting Street Academy-Spartanburg, an innovative school that aims to empower “young people from under-resourced neighborhoods to become confident, productive, and principled members of society through excellence in academics.” Mrs. Johnson is a former member of Spartanburg City Council and has served on the boards of Brookgreen Gardens, Spoleto Festival USA, and numerous non-profit organizations.

An accomplished executive with a creative entrepreneurial spirit, George Dean Johnson, Jr., is widely regarded as a business giant and public service leader in his home state and beyond. The founder and chairman of Johnson Development Associates, Johnson co-founded and directed two companies onto the New York Stock Exchange in the 1990s, and his executive experience includes seats on seven NYSE boards: Extended Stay America, Norfolk Southern, Duke Energy, AutoNation, Inc., Boca Resorts, Advance America Cash Advance, and Blockbuster, Inc. A former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and past director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Mr. Johnson has also served as chair of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the board of trustees of Converse College. Mr. Johnson is a graduate of Wofford College and earned a juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina.

The Johnsons’ two adult children, Geordy and Susanna, are integrally involved in their family’s business and philanthropic initiatives, including TJC. Having earned an undergratuate degree in art history from Washington & Lee University and a master's degree in fundraising and grantmaking from New York University, Susanna Johnson Shannon serves as a curatorial advisor to the collection. A graduate of Washington & Lee University (BA) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (MBA), Geordy Johnson is chief executive officer of Johnson Development Associates.

The Johnson Collection is part of The Johnson Group, a diverse family of companies that offer unmatched service and expertise in their respective industries. These individual enterprises share a set of guiding principles—integrity, partnership, humility, principled entrepreneurship, initiative, and fulfillment—that shape our practices and performance.