On April 11, 2012, the U.S. Postal Service issued a nondenominated (45cent) Flowers by William H. Johnson forever stamp in the long-running American Treasures series. William Henry Johnson was an African-American painter born in Florence S.C. in 1901. He worked his way through the National Academy of Design in New York City. He spent the postwar Jazz Age in France, imbibing the Modernist art movement, from which he combined with folk-art.
Johnson married a Danish artist in 1930, and spent the greater part of the Depression years in Scandinavia. He returned to the United States in 1938, and renewed interest in African-American culture. William H. Johnson passed away in 1970, having spent the last 23 years of his life in a state hospital suffering the effects of tertiary syphilis.
The Flowers stamp by William H. Johnson forever stamp sold out quickly after it was issued. In addition to one-of-each general U.S. collectors, there are collectors who specialize in the American Treasures stamp series. This particular issue was also in demand from art and black history topical collectors.
Dealers often do not stock new U.S. stamp issues in any depth. As such, when these stamps sell out through the Post Office, they can be hard to come by. Like most modern commemorative stamps, the Flowers by William H. Johnson forever stamp was issued in panes of 20. Most stamp collectors are saving these new issues in this format. Complete mint panes have become hard to find.
This stamp, which was the 11th in the American Treasures series showcases Johnson’s painting “Flowers” which was a bold rendering of oil-on-plywood of brightly colored flowers in bloom sitting on a small table. The painting featured many of the modernist abstraction and the “primitive” art form adapted by Johnson during his career.
Inspired by William H. Johnson’s life, the Williams H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts was established in 2001, to provide economic assistance to African-American artists early in their careers. Incidentally Mr. Johnson worked on the WPA Federal Art Project in Nay 1939.
The Federal Art Project was part of the “New Deal” that operated during the Great Depression. It operated from august 29, 1935 to June 30, 1943. The main goal of the Federal Art Project was to employ out-of-work artists and to provide artworks for non-federal government buildings. The program was not without its own controversies then and now. I will leave it up to you the reader to determine this out for yourself.