Painting by Mary Olmsted Johnson. “Scene Looking out of Pantry Window on the Olmsted
Oil on canvas. Scenery of vegetable cultivation behind a split rail fence, facing north in Freeland, Michigan. 15.75 in. x 19.25 in.
Mary Olmsted Johnson Collection
Mary Olmsted Johnson,1890-1950
Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello (daughter)
Donated by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello (daughter) in 2018.
Extent, Scope, and Content Note
The collection is comprised of 12 linear ft. of artwork, correspondence (copies), and papers created by artist and educator Mary Olmsted Johnson (1890-1950). It also includes research files, manuscripts, and published works of Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello (daughter) that document the personal and professional life of Mary Olmsted Johnson. The materials date from 1900 through 2019.
Collectively, the Mary Olmsted Johnson Collection is a trove for researchers studying social realism, art created during the period of the Great Depression in the United States, and the impact and influence of women artists. Johnson was born in Michigan in 1890 and later in her life resided on Long Island. Educated at the Chicago Art Institute and the Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts in St. Tropez, among the educational institutions where she taught were the University of Michigan, the Dalton School, and the Art Students League of New York.
An extremely versatile and gifted artist, Johnson’s works include charcoal drawings of animals, fine watercolors of family members, and bold oil paintings documenting the economic hardships experienced by Americans in the 1930s.
According to her daughter Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello, the archive “represents her (Mary O. Johnson’s) contribution to the nearly 100 years of the struggle of women to be recognized or taken seriously as artists…Mary O. Johnson’s life represents one woman’s effort to fulfill her life-long commitment to paint and record what she saw, to record what really existed.”
A history and catalog of Johnson’s works titled The Spirit of Humanity was compiled and published by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello. Copies of the various editions are located in the Main Library Stacks and in Special Collections (N6537 .J627 A4 2018).
Some related research materials are located in the Oakley C. Johnson Collection.
Arrangement and Processing Note
Processing completed by Kristen J. Nyitray and Lynn Toscano in June 2019.
Finding aid completed by Kristen J. Nyitray in August 2019.
The collection is arranged in seven series.
Series 1: Original Works of Art by Mary Olmsted Johnson
Series 2: Framed Art (Facsimiles) by Mary Olmsted Johnson
Series 3: Manuscript by Mary Olmsted Johnson
Series 4: Research and Subject Files compiled by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello
Series 5: Publication Files compiled by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello
Series 6: Scrapbooks, Albums, and Scroll
Series 7: Related Published Materials
Restrictions on Access
The collection is open to researchers without restriction.
Rights and Permissions
Stony Brook University Libraries' consent to access as the physical owner of the collection does not address copyright issues that may affect publication rights. It is the sole responsibility of the user of Special Collections and University Archives materials to investigate the copyright status of any given work and to seek and obtain permission where needed prior to publication.
[Item], [Box], Mary Olmsted Johnson Collection, Special Collections and University Archives, Stony Brook University Libraries.
“My Mother - Mary O. Johnson - the Artist” by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello, daughter
“An enduring memory of my mother is of her standing before her easel, critically studying the image she had painted. The easel was a permanent feature of our living room, holding paintings in various states of completion. Rather primitive, result of several previous painting sessions, perhaps, Mary’s paintings of the time reflected the wear and tear of a life and the economics of the depression and a desolate city. The brown stone buildings that flourished throughout the city featured stoops with many steps leading up to the entry of the apartments within. People - so many unemployed - used these stoops as porches, sitting together, socializing, commiserating, talking, wasting time, or just watching the world go by. Employment was something that was hard to come by, and most had given up looking."
"Living in New York City during the depression was a challenge for my mother as it was for most people in those desperate years. What is now referred to as the “Great Depression,” the economic catastrophe of the 1930s, was a challenge for most in the U.S. and represented a decade of history that most people don’t know these days or remember. Nothing is so dramatic than actual statistics - which starkly quantify reality. Below we can see the actual accounting of almost one in ten out of work in those days."
"Despite the evidence of a national calamity, support for unemployment relief remained sketchy until FDR introduced the New Deal in 1933.The cities were challenging, but so too were the farms and the lives of the farmers. The farms were one-person farms - as was my grandfather’s, my mother’s father, who worked the fields and he milked a 40-cow dairy - this - alone, where milking the cows twice a day took much of his time. There was no electricity on the mid-west farms in those days."
"The Mary O. Johnson (Mary Olmsted Johnson) archive represents her contribution to the nearly 100 years of the struggle of women to be recognized or taken seriously as artists. Reviewing these efforts over the years, we can see the needs of all in the art field. Concerns and struggles to paint and make a living in the art field have changed over the years, and commercialism and name value have in some measure taken the place of the 1930s and the “social realism” focus, or the serious meaning of art as a teller of history - a recorder of feeling and emotion."
"Mary O. Johnson’s life represents one woman’s effort to fulfill her life-long commitment to paint and record what she saw, to record what really existed. In her case in the 1930s, she had to compete with the lack of time, the sense of: 1) her responsibility for her children (over that sense of responsibility felt by men); 2) to be taken seriously as a dedicated artist; 3) to have her work preserved and exhibited, e.g., the opportunities to exhibit her work."
"And what and how does “Social Reality” come into the picture: a brief ten year period when social responsibility was considered the major role of art and of the artist. In the U.S. following “black Thursday,” (1929), when the stock market fell, the Depression fell severely on the millions who lost jobs and homes. People of this era experienced the worst economic lost in U.S. history. The advent of President Roosevelt led in part to a sense of government responsibility to provide aid. The ten years during the 1930s saw this governmental effort (example: The Works Progress Administration - WPA). Many thousands of writers and artists benefited from these programs - and survived from the work. Mary O. Johnson worked without this aid, but worked instead as a teacher - much against her true sense of what she saw as her role as an artist. Yet, she valued her family. She struggled to be taken seriously as an artist and what she perceived as the artist’s role in depicting real life. She continued painting scenes that depicted the life experiences of people."
"Mary painted before the onset of the abstract painters and contributed to the “social realism”, as it was termed - the twelve year period that defined the American Depression from 1930-1942. Her paintings were not prints, but oils and watercolors. There is fluidity in the works that displays movement and emotion. The images grow on one as one seems to experience the unspoken movement in the painting, provided by the brush strokes.
"Having grown up with Mary’s paintings, easel, and pictures through the house, I feel enveloped with Mary’s use of color, and the images live with me to this day. They are our family, forever in our hearts. That is what painting can do for humans….Fill the mind with images that comfort and remain with us. They never leave us.” (Source: “My Mother - Mary O. Johnson - the Artist” by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello, daughter)
EDUCATION: MARY OLMSTED JOHNSON
1910-1911: Ferris Normal School, Ypsilanti, Michigan
1912-1914: Chicago Art Institute, Chicago, Illinois.
Awarded "Honorable Mention" on June 14, 1912 for oil and still life.
Awarded "Honorable Mention” in 1914 for oils.
1929, July-August: Attended The Hans Hoffman School of Fine Arts, French Riviera, St. Tropez, France. Artist and Teacher, Hans Hoffman.
1932: Art Students League, New York, NY. Taught various classes. 178 West 94th Street, New York, New York.
CHRONOLOGY: MARY OLMSTED JOHNSON
1890 February 7: Born in Freeland, Michigan; daughter of James Murray Olmsted and
1910-1911: Taught at Porter School, Garfield Road, Freeland, Michigan, grades 1-8.
1914-1915: Taught at White School, State School, Saginaw, Michigan, grades 1-8.
1924-1926: Taught art and sketching at University of Michigan, School of Engineering Art Department (West Engineering Building).
1926-1927: Taught art and sketching classes at University of Michigan, School of Engineering Art Department (new building).
1930-1932: Taught at Phoenix House, New York University, Counseling Center for Gifted Children (Rockefeller Center). Director, Florence Cane. White Plains, Westchester, New York.
1930-1931: Taught art at Birch Waltham School West 94th Street. Taught art classes.
1930-1931: Taught art at the Dalton School.
1931-1935: Taught art at Little Red School House.
1932 October 3: Taught art with Hans Hoffman at Art Students League. 178 West 94th Street, New York, New York (payment: September 29, 1932- $10.00).
1932-1942: Taught at Walden School at 68th Street, then moved to 1 West 88th Street, New York, New York.
1936: Taught at the Art Students League.
1943-1945: Taught at Walden School. 1 West 88th Street, New York, New York.
WRITINGS: MARY OLMSTED JOHNSON
Johnson, Mary O. “Art for Children,” Nursery Education Digest: The Creative Arts. (Vol.IV, 1946, pp.16-17). The New York City Chapter of the New York Association for Nursery Education, 1 West 88th Street, New York, New York.
Johnson, Mary O. “Sunday Morning,” sketch printed in the The New Masses (December,1931). Reprinted in: Todd, Ellen Wiley. The “New Women” Revised: Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993.
Various cartoons and sketches printed in the publications: The New Masses; Workers Library Publishers, Inc. P.O. Box 148, Station Dm NY, NY. (May, 1940); Association Committee for Struggle Against War, 104 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York. 1933-1040
Johnson, Mary Olmsted, -- 1890-1950.
Johnson, Mary Olmsted, -- 1890-1950 -- Archives.
Johnson, Mary Olmsted, -- 1890-1950 -- Catalogs.
Johnson, Oakley C., -- 1890-1976.
Women painters -- Michigan -- Biography.
Art, American -- 20th century.
Painting, American -- 20th century.
Social problems in art.
Series 1: Original Works of Art by Mary Olmsted Johnson
Item 1: “Scene Looking out of Pantry Window on the Olmsted Farm.” Oil painting on canvas. Description: vegetables behind a split rail fence, facing north in Freeland, Michigan. Wood frame on black canvas board. 21.50 inches x 25.00 inches (framed); 15.75 inches x 19.25 inches. 1937.
Item 2: “Portrait of James Murray Olmsted.” Watercolor painting on paper. 23.50 inches x by 18.75 inches (framed); 15.00 inches x 11.510 inches. 1943.
Item 3: “Portrait of Alice Stolze Olmsted.” Watercolor painting on paper. 22.75 inches x 18.75 inches (framed); 15.50 inches x 10.50 inches. 1939. Condition note: chip lower left 3.50 inches; right side wear.
Item 4: “Wagon - Somewhere in the South.” Watercolor painting on paper. Description: two donkeys pulling a wagon with two workers on a road in the late afternoon. 22.00 inches x 24.50 inches (framed); 16.50 inches x 19.50 inches. 1943.
Note: Item 5 and Item 6 are framed together
Item 5: “Big Horn Sheep.” Charcoal on paper. 17.00 inches x 20.00 inches (framed); 10 inches x 13.50 inches. Undated. Condition note: light spotting.
Item 6: “Alaska Moose.” Charcoal on paper. 16.75 inches x 19.75 inches (framed); 10.00 inches x 13.50 inches. Undated.
Note: Item 7 and Item 8 are framed together.
Item 7: “Bison.” Charcoal on paper. 16.75 inches x 19.75 inches (framed); 10.00 inches x 13.50 inches. Undated.
Item 8: “Grizzly Bear.” Charcoal on paper. Description: bear two with cubs.. 17 inches x 20 inches (framed); 10.00 inches x 13.50 inches.
Series 2: Framed Art (facsimiles) by Mary Olmsted Johnson
Item 1: “Bananas.” c1940.
Item 2: “Milkman.” c1940.
Item 3: “Four Scenes of Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan.” c1926.
Item 4: “Four Scenes of Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan.” c1926.
Item 5: “Four Scenes of Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan.” c1926.
Item 6: “Four Scenes of Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor, Michigan.” c1926.
Item 1: “Bushels.” c1940.
Item 2: Untitled. (Portrait of a woman). 1944.
Item 3: “Woman and Baby.” 1937.
Item 4: “Woman in White Dress.” 1937.
Item 5: “Woman with Laundry.” c1940.
Series 3: Manuscript by Mary Olmsted Johnson
Johnson, Mary Olmsted.“There is No Lantern.” May 1931. Typescript.
Series 4: Research and Subject Files Compiled by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello
Folder 1: Arts and Crafts Movement, 1900
Folder 2: Correspondence with Johnson/Baney family
Folder 3: DeGreene, Albert. “North of the Middle.” Includes illustrations by Mary Olmsted Johnson. Depression, 1933. “A Hooverville in Central Park”
Folder 4: Eaton, G.D., 1925 (Portrait by MOJ; University of Michigan)
Folder 5: Flint [Michigan] Sit Down Strike, 1936-1937
Folder 6: “Grampa Gibbon” (CD-Rom)
Folder 7: Hans Hoffman, Mary Olmsted Johnson's attendance at St. Tropez Program, 1929
Folder 8: John Reed Clubs, 1930s
Folder 9: Mary Olmsted, Art ‘06 , botany book, Freeland School, Michigan (photocopy)
Folder 10: Assorted photographs and documents of the Johnson family (photocopies)
Folder 11: Articles by Mary Olmsted Johnson: “Art Education”; “Mary’s School Book, 1915” (includes illustrations by Mary Olmsted Johnson); “Art for Children,” Mary O. Johnson ( Nursery Education Digest); “The Three Adventurers,” by Oakley Calvin Johnson (photocopies)
Folder 12: Correspondence to and from Mary Olmsted Johnson, c1928
Folder 13: Correspondence between Mary Olmsted Johnson and Oakley Johnson, 1915-1916
Folder 14: Mary Olmsted Johnson's elementary school textbook, 1902. The Descriptive Speller for Graded and Ungraded Schools by George B. Aiton, Boston; Ginn & Co.; The Athenaeum Press, 1902 (photocopies)
Folder 15: Photographs of Mary Olmsted Johnson (3 photocopies, 1 original)
Folder 16: Mary O. Johnson listed as University of Michigan faculty
Folder 17: Chicago Art Institute, Mary Olmsted Johnson attendance, 3 years
Folder 18: Illustrations of Mary Olmsted Johnson 's artwork (6f) (note: removed from binder “Paintings and Biography” for preservation reasons).
Folder 1: Museum of Modern Art (MOMA); Smithsonian Museum
Folder 2: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Mary Olmsted Johnson listing: National Museum of Women in the Arts, Mary O. Johnson file
Folder 3: Negro-Caucasian Clubs, University of Michigan, 1927
Olmsted/Johnson genealogy (binder)
Folder 4: “‘Peter’s story,’ “How to Paint”: Mary Olmsted Johnson, How to paint (the dream), remembrance by Peter Ciccariello
Folder 5: Social Realism; The Great Depression [United States], 1930-1940
Folder 6: Walden School [New York] founding, 1914
Folders 7-9: Archive project, “Beginning of Search, 2006-2008” (3f)
Folder 10: Archive, Mary Olmsted Johnson, 2008
Folder 11: Stolze family and chair
Series 5" Publication Files Compiled by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello
Folder 1: Mary Olmsted Johnson, “5 Year Plan, 1930”
Folders 2-3: The Spirit of Humanity. 1st edition (2f)
Folders 4-9: The Spirit of Humanity. 3rd edition, 2013 (6f)
Folder 10: The Spirit of Humanity: The Art of Mary O. Johnson. Compiled by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello. 3rd ed. (Copyright 2015)
Folder 1: The Spirit of Humanity, 4th edition, 2014-2016 (3f)
Folder 2: ISBN Numbers- 4th edition of book: ISBN Numbers; Library of Congress correspondence
Folder 3: The Spirit of Humanity The Art of Mary O. Johnson. Compiled by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello. 4th ed., 2016.
Folder 4: “The Spirit of Humanity: Mary O. Johnson,” booklet
Folder 5: Exhibition options in New York State
Folder 6: Exhibition at John Jermain Memorial Library, Sag Harbor, New York, 2019
Folder 7: “25 Years of Rapid Changes in Art” compiled by Priscilla Johnson Ciccariello
Folder 8: Bibliography of Social Realism; correspondence with art museums
Folder 9: Max Ginsberg and Louis Schanker
Folder 10: Archives and Ashcan Art
Folder 11: Bentley Historical Museum, University of Michigan
Folder 12: Chicago Art Institute; Detroit Institute of Art
Folders 13 and 14: Photographs of exhibition at the Port Washington Public Library, New York, September 2019 (and related materials)
SERIES 6: Scrapbooks, Album, and Scroll
Item 1: Paper scroll. Students at Walden School. Mixed media. 17.50 inches x 30 inches,
c1948. Condition note: torn in certain locations.
Item 2: Yearbook, Walden School, 1951. Memorializes Mary O. Johnson.
Item 3: Album with family photographs. Untitled. Condition note: extremely brittle.
Item 4: Album with photographs. Titled “On the Trail. Mary Olmsted Johnson and Oakley Calvin Johnson.” Condition note: extremely brittle.
Item 5: Journal with illustrations titled “The Bride Her Wedding Book.” Includes marriage certificate of Mary Olmsted Johnson and Oakley Calvin Johnson, c1916.
Item 6: Scrapbook or album cover (no content).
SERIES 7: Related Published Materials
Ciccariello, Priscilla Johnson, and Peter Ciccariello. The Spirit of Humanity: The Art of Mary O. Johnson. Montauk, New York: Montauk Printing, 2016. (2 copies)
Coyote, Peter, Dayton Duncan, Ken Burns, Julie Dunfey, Buddy Squires, Stephen McCarthy, and Craig Mellish. The Dust Bowl. [United States]: PBS Distribution, 2012.
International Publishers Company, New York. Looking Forward: Sections of Works in Progress by Authors of International Publishers on the Occasion of Its Thirtieth Anniversary . New York: International Publishers, 1954.
Vanderpoel, John H. The Human Figure. Brattleboro, Vermont: Echo Point Books & Media, 2017.