Fayette, Missouri – In the early 1950s, a freshman at Central Methodist College named Ellery Johnson (’56) sent a letter to her parents. Much like a student today would contact his parents by text or FaceTime, he wanted to let them know how college life was going – he was busy with a research paper, had enough money to last the semester, had dates.
And since a modern student’s otherwise plain text message can be littered with emojis, Johnson’s routine letter was full of little drawings and doodles. A baseball, trumpet, sun, several stars, and many different hand-drawn “fonts” give the character of the letter, along with a postscript drawing of a beach scene next to it. place where he wishes his parents to have fun in Florida.
It’s a simple letter, but undoubtedly a work of art, and one of many that will be on display from January 30, as works from Johnson’s prolific career will make up two-thirds of the new exhibition at the Ashby-Hodge Gallery. of American art.
‘The Wonderful World of Ellery Johnson’ will open at the end of the month in Galleries 1 and 2, with Gallery 3 housing a quintet of works by Thomas Moran, the curated Glenn and Veronica Cox collection and a tribute to black artists . The show will run from January 30 to April 21.
“My father was always essentially an educator. He always found different ways to educate,” said Johnson’s son, Ellery Johnson III. “He was a lifelong student of where we came from and how we got here. This is reflected in every project.
These projects include a variety of mediums including sculptures, paintings, pottery, jewelry, and more, many of which have been influenced by Native American history and culture. Throughout her life, Johnson’s work won numerous awards and was included in exhibitions across the United States and Mexico. Now more than two dozen Johnson pieces will remain in Ashby-Hodge’s permanent collection after the show ends.
After graduating from Central, Johnson served in the military for three years, then worked as a college art teacher in Hazelwood from the 1970s through the mid-1990s. He continued to study art, education, Spanish and art history at various universities and traveled the world to learn as much as possible. Johnson died in 2017 at the age of 83.
“On more than one occasion, I had heard him referred to as ‘the most interesting man in the world’ from friends and colleagues,” Ellery said of her father. “He traveled a lot and these trips were not leisure. Europe, Asia, Middle East, South Pacific, Central America. I guarantee that every historical word and relic at every stop has been read and studied. My mother had the patience of a saint.
Ellery’s mother, Sue Ann Johnson, was instrumental in initiating the process of transferring Johnson’s work to Central and Ashby-Hodge. She first began talking with Gallery Registrar Dr. Joe Geist about the possibility of a “big show” in early 2020. She sadly passed away the same year, before the show could come together. , but much of the surviving family is expected to attend the exhibit when it opens.
Visitors will be able to view the three galleries, as well as a painting recently acquired by George Caleb Bingham, from January 30 to April 21. The gallery will be open on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. It will be closed during spring break, from March 13 to 20. Special tours are also available by contacting curator Denise Haskamp at 660-248-6304 or [email protected] All visitors are required to wear masks.