William H. Johnson Prize for African American Artists

Artist Sanford Biggers
Artist Sanford Biggers (2009 recipient of WHJ Prize) attends the 'Stargazers: Elizabeth Catlett In Conversation With 21 Contemporary Artists' exhibition opening at the Bronx Museum on February 6, 2011 in New York City. Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images


The William H. Johnson Prize was established in 2001 in honor of the artist William H. Johnson.

Inspired by Johnson's early struggles in America as an artist of color, the large financial grant of US$25,000 is earmarked specifically for African American artists and other minority artists at the onset of their artistic careers.


The William H. Johnson Prize's mission, according to their website:

"...the Foundation will support projects aimed at broadening awareness of the life and work of William H. Johnson and other African American artists, mainly through exhibitions and publications."


The William H. Johnson Prize was founded in 2001 to provide young African American artists much needed support to help establish their art careers.

The artist William H. Johnson (1901-1970) was born in South Carolina and studied art at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1918. In spite of his great talents, he was declined a traveling scholarship, most likely due to racial discrimination. His teacher, Charles Hawthorne, funded Johnson's trip to Europe, where the young painter lived for a dozen years, mainly living and working in Denmark and Norway.

Even though Johnson had to overcome racism, poverty and growing up in the rural southern United States, he became recognized as "a great American artist of the 20th century" and was acclaimed for his "Scandinavian landscapes and his witty and poignant scenes of African American daily life" rendered in his primitive folk style of rhythmical and brightly colored patterns.

Johnson, along with his Danish wife, textile artist Holcha Krake, returned to New York in 1938, settling in the artistic community of Harlem. War, racism, illness and Krake's early death eventually took its toll on the artist and Johnson was hospitalized in 1947 for the rest of his life.

Despite such a sad ending, the William H.

Johnson Foundation for the Arts was established to honor the artist's great talents and achievements and to help other young artists achieve their artistic dreams.

Grant Specifics:

The William H. Johnson Grant is offered to African American artists and other minorities who are just at the beginnings of their professional artistic careers, on what is termed 'early career.'

According to their website: "..."early career" is a flexible term that should be interpreted liberally to include artists who have finished their academic work within twelve years from the year that the prize is awarded. For example, a person who finished their studies in 1999 is eligible to apply in 2011, but not in 2012. Age is not determinative, and artists who have not earned BFAs or MFAs are still eligible so long as they have not been working as an artist for more than twelve years."

Visual artists, who work with various media such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, installation and new genre are invited to submit applications for the Grant.

Grants are awarded at the end of the calendar year.


Past recipients of the William H. Johnson Prize include artists such as Deanna Bowen, Robert A. Pruitt, Sanford Biggers, Kori Newkirk, and Jennie C.


How to Apply:

To apply for a William H. Johnson Prize, first send an introductory email to info@whjohnsongrant.org to inquire about the application process.


African American artists who have been working as professional artists for less than 12 years from their graduation of art schools are eligible to apply for a William H. Johnson Prize.

Contact Info:

William H. Johnson Foundation for the Arts
8424 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite A-533
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Email: info@whjohnsongrant.org


Biography of William H. Johnson