The Stone City Art Colony and School 1932-1933
Mary Brigham Johnson

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Mary Brigham Johnson (1898-1946) - student

Born in Des Moines, Mary pursued her interest in painting at a young age by taking classes at the Cumming School of Art. Years later, while working as an art instructor for the Cincinnati Public Schools, she enrolled at the Cincinnati Art Academy, specializing in oil painting. Mary briefly joined the local art community in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York during the 1920s and was also affiliated with Eastport, Maine's fledgling art colony. While in the northeast, Mary met John Michael Johnson, a native Alabamian and recent West Point graduate (1917). The couple married and moved to the Birmingham, Alabama area, even as Mary cultivated her Des Moines art connections and received word of the Stone City colony. She attended both sessions of the colony, travelling each time from Alabama.

Mary continued painting and drawing, even composing bookplates for her father's literary endeavors, including his 1905 novel, An Old Man's Idyl, the story of a scholar who marries late in life. Her husband's construction company remained active during the 1920s-1940s, and by 1935, the Johnsons left their Alabama home. Eventually, the pair settled in San Francisco, California, where Mary died in 1946.

Johnson received additional art training at the Art Institute of Chicago and exhibited at the Des Moines Women's Club, the Birmingham (AL) Public Library, and the Iowa Art Salon at the Iowa State Fair. Her father, Johnson Brigham (1846-1936) was Iowa's first state librarian and publisher of The Midland Monthly, a Des Moines-based literary magazine that launched the careers of many prominent Iowa authors of the early 1900s.

Painting by Mary Brigham Johnson. Used with the permission of Libby Byrne, Montgomery, AL.

Mary Brigham Johnson, from the large Art Colony photo.

Mary Brigham Johnson (far right) in front of her home in Pine Flat, Alabama in 1926. The others are (l-r) Benjamin T. Gibbons, Jr., Benjamin T. Gibbons, Sr., Ella K. Gibbons and William G. Gibbons. Provided and used with the permission of David Gibbons, Montgomery, AL.

Bookplate from a book by her father, Johnson Brigham, State Librarian in Iowa. Signed December 1932 - Mary Brigham Johnson. Provided and used with the permission of David Gibbons, Montgomery, AL.

When Tillage Begins: The Stone City Art Colony and School
Published online October 2003 by the
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