Johnson left Greensboro at age 16 to study painting in New York, eventually entering the renowned National Academy of Design. He was drafted during WWI and fought in the segregated 92nd Infantry Division in France. Today, his paintings are in the collections of New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center, Fisk University Galleries in Nashville and the Amistad Research Center, New Orleans.
Discussing Johnson’s life and art is Kenneth Rodgers, Director of the North Carolina Central University Museum of Art in Durham. Rodgers curated a retrospective of Johnson’s work at NCCU in 2002, resulting in an award-winning publication, Climbing up the Mountain: The Modern Art of Malvin Gray Johnson. Educated in Greensboro – Rodgers earned a B.S. from North Carolina A&T State University and an M.F.A. from UNCG ¬– he is the recipient of National Endowment for the Humanities and Fulbright-Hays Awards and has contributed exhibition catalog essays on artists Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett and Robert Scott Duncanson.
The John Dortch Endowment Fund was established in 1985 by attorneys at the firm of Smith Moore Schell & Hunter – today Smith Moore Leatherwood Attorneys at Law – in memory of John Johnson Dortch (1930–1984), who had a longstanding interest in the region’s history. Past lectures have featured Roy Underhill, Catherine Bishir, Jim Schlosser and Dorothy Spruill Redford.