BAIA BITS: Joshua Johnson
Little Moments Where Knowledge Meets Art
Many have questioned his race. For 18th century painter, Joshua Johnson, this was the norm. Considered the earliest documented professional African American painter, Johnson’s legal status has consistently been questioned as well. The descendants of the families he painted portraits for claim Johnson was once enslaved. However, Johnson’s name appeared at the turn of the 18th century in the City Directory of Baltimore, a publication reserved for the free. Still, it is likely that Johnson was biracial and, at times, passing, given his name later appeared in an 1817 directory among “free householders of Color.”
Even so, few questioned his talent. Between 1795 and 1825, Johnson painted many portraits of Baltimore’s rising and wealthy white residents. Apparently, he was successful, given land records from the 1820s show Johnson owning multiple properties in three Maryland counties. So, if he was once enslaved, Johnson, his wife, and three children appeared far from it two decades into the 19th century.
Nonetheless, Johnson had his share of struggles. On December 19, 1798, the popular painter was quoted in the Baltimore Intelligencer, characterizing himself a “self-taught genius” who overcame “many obstacles in the pursuit of his studies.” Some believe this to be a veiled reference to his racial identity and the discrimination he likely endured as a result.
Despite his tribulations, Johnson was able to forge a successful 30-year career as an artist. In the Baltimore Intelligencer article, upon being asked about his productive portrait career, Johnson went on to promote that it is “highly gratifying” to employ superior skills to “execute all commands with an effect, and in a style, which must give satisfaction.”
Johnson, now considered the first professional African American painter, died some time in or after 1826, with few details known about his passing.
BAIA BITS are produced in part by the generous support of our Patreon members with a special shout out to Zadig & Voltaire.
Sign up page for our free virtual collectors course — Here
Stephanie Robinson, Esq. is a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, a national media figure, author, former Chief Counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and former President and CEO of The Jamestown Project, a national think tank focusing on democracy. Ms. Robinson hosted her own national radio show, Roundtable with Stephanie Robinson, a popular weekly 30-minute, talk-radio program focused on culture, politics, and relationships that aired on TSN. For over half a decade, Ms. Robinson was Political and Social Commentator for the Tom Joyner Morning Show where she spoke to between 9 and 10 million people weekly, offering her perspective on the day’s most pressing social and political issues.
Robinson is co-author of Accountable: Making America as Good as Its Promise, (Atria Books, 2009). She is a nationally recognized expert on issues relating to social policy, women, race, family, and electoral politics. She was featured as one of the 30 Young Leaders of the Future in Ebony Magazine and was profiled in the book As I Am: Young African American Women in a Critical Age, by Julian Okwu. Robinson is a frequent speaker expressing her views in countless media outlets including the Associated Press, The Washington Post, C-Span, Fox News, NewsOne and NPR.
Stephanie was a Member of President Clinton’s first Mission to Africa regarding children orphaned by AIDS. Robinson, a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Maryland and the Harvard Law School, is a native of Steubenville, Ohio. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two sons.
Would you buy stock in BAIA if you could? Well we invite you to join us in becoming a monthly supporter, starting at just $3 a month YOU become a stakeholder and begin to help us transform lives through art. We are growing the BAIA team and will use your contributions to hire more team members for the purpose of creating more educational and marketing resources for schools and universities about african american artists both past and present. Such art initiatives and educational programming like Blacklite with Steve Prince, Relating to Art with Dr. Kelli Morgan, and BAIA BITS would not be possible without the ongoing support of our Patreon members. Please consider becoming a monthly Patreon member today!
Review our list of rewards for becoming a BAIA Patreon / patron supporter. Your monthly contribution has lasting benefits. — “What will your legacy be” – Dr. Margaret Burroughs
Thank you new and recurring monthly Patrons
Deloris and Eddie Young, Esther Silver-Parker, Eugene Foney, Zadig & Voltaire, Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art, John and Melanie Guess, Frank Frazier, Houston Museum of African American Culture, Leslie Fields, Jim Nixon, Dr. Michael Butler, Mary “Madea” Jones, Patrick Stewart, Noreen Winningham, Reg Pugh, Kevin Smokler, Deborah R. Moore, Dr. Skyller Walkes, Jae M, Jocelyne Lamour, Marion Zweig, Shannon DeVaney, Ashlee Jacob, DaNia Childress, Rev. Anita Marshall, Mary Ali-Masai, Devera Redmond, Roslyn Valentine, Robin King, Brenda Larnell, Michael, Jeffery Washington, Tricia Konan, Debra L Lacy CHARLES BIBBS, Fredric Isler, Silvia Peters, Harold Moore, Shurvon Haynes K.Coleman Shannon Dale Davis Terese L Hawkins M. Rasheed Jamal Love Annette, Mason Archie, Manuelita Brown, Carolyn L. Mazloomi Gale Ross KL Martin michael jacobs Virginia Joy Simmons Christ Van Loan Sr. Cecilia Winters-Morris, Rosie Gordon-Wallace, Pearlie Taylor, Danny Jenkins, Sara, Lloyd Goode, Marina Kovic, Sarah Rooney, Mitchell Shohet, Nicole Farley, Cheryl B Blankman, Jocelyn Greene, Laura Di Piazza Petrina Burkard Hannah Diener Sarah Drury Claire Sig Mina Silva Whitney, Sara Friesen, Megan LaCroix, Kellyn Maguire, Sophia Bellin,o Cory Huff, Wilhelmina Barker, Linda Eaddy, Shelley Danzy, Rosalyn D. Elder, Sonia Spencer Karen Pinzolo Desiree Dansan, Deborah Paige-Jackson, ALKEBU LAN IMAGES Bookstore DeLores M Dyer, Shelia, Harry F Banks, Susan Ross, Dr. Diane R. Miles, Carlton Cotton, Andre Mitchell, Joan L. Ward, JOCELYN BENITA SMITH, Paul Robinson, Janice Orr, Patricia D Dungy, Ethnie Weekes, Shawn Rhea, Duke Windsor, Runez M Bender, Karen Y House, M Belinda Tucker, Dr. Yonette Thomas, Diana Shannon Young, Judith Hamilton, Julia Turner Lowe, Francene Greene, Caryliss R. Weaver, Sharmon Jane Hilfinger, Bill and Deborah Nix, joyce a, Wanda Baker-Smith, Timothy Gandley, Anneke Schwob, Emily M, Rachael horner, Morris Howard, Marie L Johnson, Ayoka Chenzira, Jean Gumpper, Caitlin Charles, Becca H,. Dr. Darlene White, Dr. Sandra Boyce Broomes, Michele C. Mayes, Rita Crittenden, Reginald Laurent, Jea Delsarte, Brenda Brooks, Suzette Renwick, BEVERLY GRANT, Linda B. Smith, Judith Bergeron, Emily Hegeman Cavanagh, Teri L Lewis, Cooky Goldblatt, Danni Cerezo, Hollis Turner, cdixon06, Freda Davis, Sarah Caputo, jacki rust, Curtis Morrow, Christina Levine, Jessica Beckstrom, Kim Walker, Pamela Hart, Ted Ellis, Louise berner-holmberg, Carla Sonheim, Nicole Bruce, Alison Deas, Monikapi, Ashley Littlefield, Reginald Browne Bill Cook, SylviaWong Lewis, DONNA PAXTON, Kanika Marshall, Cheyenne, Nancy Maignan, Kimberly Smith, Tracy Russ, Gwen Meharg, K Joy Peters, johnnie mae maberry, Lester Marks, Zishan Evans, Anne king, Dianna A. Harris, Arbrie Griffin Bradley, Sandra Sautner, Barbara Brown, Bronwen Hodgkinson, Sonia Deane, January Hoskin, Quinton Foreman, Key Mosley, Jim Alexander, Terri Pease, Annette Groschke, Richard MacMillan, D T Ray, Camille, Elayne Gross, Ann Tankersley, Samori Augusto, Karen M Hirsch, Jeanne H Chaney, Jacqueline Konan, Jerome Moore, Patricia Andrews-Keenan, India Still, Luna Cascade, Amy Peck, Marnese Barksdale, Elder Bridgette, René McCullough, Kevin and Tracy Burton, Raven Burnes, Kim Dubois, Edwina King Diva E, Charlotte Bender, Phyllis Stephens, Alisa R Elliot, Ebony English, Otto Neals, Michael Nix, Terri Bowles, Nelly Maynard, Leslie Smith, Bernard W. Kinsey, Toby Sisson, Raynard Hall, Milton Loupe, Wren Mckinley, Arturo Lindsay, Lindiwe Stovall Lester
We Appreciate your support