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The Johnson and Johnson of Art: Professor George Johnson and his wife, Julie, leave a beautiful campus legacy

By Elaine Jacobs Smith
March 26, 2013
Appeared in the
Spring 2013 issue of IUP Magazine

Hundreds of prints and other works by the late professor emeritus of art have a new home in the University Museum, thanks to his wife’s generosity.

When George Johnson made lithographic prints, his wife, Julie, often did the sponging, wetting the stone to make sure the ink stuck only to the image area.

George and Julie Johnson

George and Julie Johnson in 1995 [Photo courtesy of Julie Johnson]

When he wanted to preserve the old Elkin house, where he started the Art Department’s printmaking program in 1966, Julie Johnson went to the courthouse to research the building and discovered its history as Breezedale.

The Johnsons worked very much as a team, according to Christopher Weiland ’73, one of George Johnson’s former students who later became a colleague on the Art faculty.

And, together, they were effective.

In his nearly 30 years on the IUP faculty, George Johnson had artwork exhibited in 14 major shows and included in museum collections across the state.

Their efforts also were instrumental in restoring Breezedale and placing both it and the Saltsburg canal, which George Johnson had written about in several published works, into the National Register of Historic Places.

“George was a historian,” Weiland said, “and Julie was his worker bee.“

Sutton Hall and the old Indiana courthouse were other buildings that needed saving, and the Johnsons were part of those campaigns, as well.

Shortly after her husband’s death in March 1997, Julie Johnson gave more than 70 pieces from his private collection to the University Museum.

Now living in Port Charlotte, Florida, and set to turn 90 in June, she recently gave the museum many of the remaining lithographs, woodblock prints, and etchings, a gift appraised at nearly $135,000. A number of those prints are now on display in the IUP Performing Arts Center.

Julie Johnson remembers her husband’s last time at IUP. As a professor emeritus, he continued to use the studio in Sprowls after his retirement to help students with their artwork and to create his own.

Prints by George Johnson on display in the mezzanine lounge of Fisher Auditorium in the IUP Performing Arts Center

Hundreds of prints by the late George Johnson, professor emeritus of art, were donated by his wife, Julie, to the University Museum. Some are on display in the mezzanine lounge of Fisher Auditorium in the IUP Performing Arts Center. [Photo: Keith Boyer]

In January 1997, about two months before his death, they worked in the studio until midnight before heading to Florida for the rest of the winter. As George Johnson hung the lithographs that night, he told his wife they would have to finish them when they returned.

He never did. But Julie Johnson made sure his artwork found a permanent home on campus.

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