J. Theodore Johnson

born Oregon, IL 1902-died Sunnyvale, CA 1963
Oregon, Illinois, United States
Sunnyvale, California, United States

J. Theodore Johnson is best known for the four murals he created for the Oak Park Post Office in Chicago while working for the Works Progress Administration. The United States government called him in New York and commissioned him to depict a series of historically significant moments in Oak Park’s history. Having studied at the Chicago Art Institute, Johnson saw this as a homecoming, but some community leaders expressed concern that he had not lived in Chicago long enough to depict its history effectively. The murals ultimately won praise, and Johnson exhibited his work widely during his lifetime. Later in his career he taught at the Minneapolis School of Art and the San José College in California.

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1934: A New Deal for Artists
During the Great Depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) enlisted artists to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country. Although it lasted less than one year, from December 1933 to June 1934, the PWAP provided employment for thousands of artists, giving them an important role in the country’s recovery. Their legacy, captured in more than fifteen thousand artworks, helped “the American Scene” become America seen.