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Burt William Johnson

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Burt William Johnson
Modern (19th century-1945) Sculpture
(Flint, OH, April 25, 1890 - March 27, 1927, Claremont, CA)

Known for his narrative-rich sculptures, Burt William Johnson was one of the foremost artists in Southern California in the early 20th century. Most of his works represented traditional European allegories or memorialized casualties following the First World War. Johnson was born on April 25, 1890 in Flint, Ohio. At age 17, he moved to Claremont, California to study fine arts at Pomona College. In 1909, Johnson transferred to the Art Students League of New York, an art institute renowned for its lively community of limestone and cast metal sculptors consisting of James Earle Fraser, Robert I. Aitken, and many others. Johnson would move back to Claremont in 1913 to begin his professional artistic career, fulfilling commissions by local colleges and universities. His finest work would appear in the early 1920s as dozens of public parks throughout the United States commissioned him to create “Doughboy” memorials to commemorate World War One American casualties. These memorials typically consisted of a marble base underneath a bronze-casted young American soldier solemnly staring at a battlefield cross. Johnson would enjoy further successes throughout the 1920s and 1930s. His fascination in Greco-Roman and Italian Renaissance fantasy literature would inspire him to create bronze-casted sculptures such as Pomona College’s The Spirit of Spanish Music, commissioned by the class of 1915 to adorn the Arcadian-inspired architecture of Lebus Court. Johnson would create dozens of exterior façades and lobby sculptures throughout Los Angeles, with his final project consisting of adorning the pediment of the Los Angeles Fine Arts Building with two marble sculptures of young men representing “Architecture” and “Sculpture”. In 1927, Johnson died mid-project at the age of 36.

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