History Museum Honors Greensboro’s Own Harlem Renaissance Painter

Malvin Gray Johnson may be one of the most important Greensboro-born artists you’ve never heard of. Johnson fought in WWI and went on to become a significant figure in the Harlem Renaissance movement before his tragic death in 1934 at age 38. Johnson’s artistic career and legacy will be the focus of the 2018 John B. Dortch Memorial Lecture at 7 pm, Wednesday, June 6 at the Greensboro History Museum, 130 Summit Ave.

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.