Burt Johnson

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Burt William Johnson (April 25, 1890 – March 27, 1927)[1] was an American sculptor.

Burt W. Johnson working on The Piping Faun sculpture (1918) for Grauman's Theatre, Downtown Los Angeles, California, US.


Johnson was born in Flint, Ohio. At the age of 13, he went to live for a year in Cornish, New Hampshire,[2] where his older sister Annetta Johnson Saint-Gaudens, wife of sculptor Louis Saint-Gaudens, was studying with Louis' brother, master sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.[3] Johnson moved to Claremont, California in 1907 to study at Pomona College, and then to New York City in 1909 to study at the Art Students League of New York.[1][4] He worked with fellow sculptors James Earle Fraser, Robert I. Aitken and George Bridgman, as well as his brother-in-law, Louis St. Gaudens.[5] Back in California after Louis St. Gaudens' death in 1913, he moved into the studio that his brother-in-law had created during a visit to Claremont.[2]

Johnson remained active in both California and New York, and is well known for his statues honoring American soldiers of World War I, known as doughboys. Examples of these doughboy statues can be found in DeWitt Clinton Park[6] and Doughboy Park[7] in New York City, the latter being named the best war memorial of its kind by the American Federation of Artists in 1928.[7] Garfield Park in Pomona, California has another World War I tribute created by Johnson, dedicated in 1923, with an allegorical representation of Pomona, the Goddess of Fruit, beside a young man.[8] The Children's Tribute to the World War Heroes (1919) in Robert Keller Park in Huntington Park, California, depicts a barefoot girl holding the uniform caps of a sailor and a doughboy to her heart.[9]

Among his earlier works is The Spirit of Spanish Music, a fountain with the bronze figure of a boy playing a flute, located in Lebus Court of the Mabel Shaw Bridges Hall of Music at Pomona College.[10][11] His allegorical figures of Architecture and Sculpture decorate the exterior of the 1927 Fine Arts Building (Los Angeles), with additional reliefs near the top of the building's façade. The inside lobby has a fountain with sculptures of children, modeled by his daughter, Cynthia (age 3) and his son Harvey (age 5).[12] That son, Harvey W. Johnson (1921–2005), was a prominent Western artist and became president of the Cowboy Artists of America.[13][14] In addition, Johnson's grandsons Casey Schwarz and Scott Lee Johnson continue the family involvement in sculpture. There is also a granddaughter, Darcy Lynn a painter, and a great granddaughter, Tamsin Parker, a painter and animator.

In 1918, Johnson was a leading candidate to execute a memorial to community leader and publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Gen. Harrison Gray Otis,. who had died the year before. The Los Angeles Evening Herald called him a "100 per cent American sculptor", and pictured him "putting the finishing touches" on his model for the memorial in a story announcing that the project would be delayed until after the conclusion of the World War, since the amount of bronze needed to complete the work "would be sufficient to construct two cannon".[15] The project ultimately was awarded to Russian sculptor Prince Paul Troubetzkoy[16]

For his final project, the façade and lobby sculptures of the Los Angeles Fine Arts Building, Johnson's sister, Annetta Johnson Saint-Gaudens, and her son Paul St Gaudens, both sculptors themselves, provided assistance,[17] as did Santa Monica, California sculptor Merrell Gage.[2] In his final years, feeling he wanted to work on something creative and not concentrate just on sculpture, Johnson wrote a novel about an artist's life in Greenwich Village, New York City.[18]

Burt W. Johnson's grave stone

Burt Johnson died in Claremont, California, on March 27, 1927, at the age of 36. He is buried next to his wife Ottilie M. Johnson (1891–1980) in Oak Park Cemetery, Claremont, California, USA.

Selected works (locations known)[edit]

Selected works (current locations unknown)[edit]


External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Moore, Nancy Dustin Wall. Dictionary of Art and Artists in Southern California Before 1930. Los Angeles: Privately printed, 1975, p.130
  2. ^ a b c d e Berryman, Florence Seville. "An American sculptor and his achievement". Daughters of the American Revolution Magazine, Volume LXII Number 2, November 1928, pp.661-667
  3. ^ Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California 1786-1940. San Francisco: Hughes Publishing Company, 1986
  4. ^ Arts and Decoration. Volume 6 Number 1, November 1915, p.6
  5. ^ Fielding, Mantle. Dictionary of American Painters, Sculptors and Engravers, Enlarged Edition. Greens Farms CT: Modern Books and Crafts, 1926/1974, p.189
  6. ^ Clinton War Memorial (Doughboy), De Witt Clinton Park, inaugurated 1930
  7. ^ a b The Woodside Doughboy, Doughboy Park, Woodside, New York, inaugurated 1923
  8. ^ Los Angeles Times, May 14, 1923, p.7 (photograph)
  9. ^ Blackstock, Joe (June 17, 2016). "Local sculptor gets his spot in the limelight again". Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. (photographs); based on a public lecture given by Dr. Priscilla Schwarz, lecturer in art history, Oklahoma State University, May 28, 2016, Pomona, California.
  10. ^ "Lebus Court, Pomona College". arthistory.pomona.edu
  11. ^ "1915 Pomona College timeline". www.pomona.edu/
  12. ^ "The Fine Arts Building". publicartina.com
  13. ^ CowboyArtistsofAmerica Harvey Johnson obituary
  14. ^ About the Artist Archived November 11, 2013, at the Wayback Machine harveywjohnson.com official site
  15. ^ "Delay statue of general to help win present war", Los Angeles Evening Herald, Number 149, April 24, 1918
  16. ^ Wood, Helen B. "Los Angeles", American Art News, Volume XVII Number 21, March 1, 1919, p.3
  17. ^ Cuba, Stan. The Denver Artists Guild: Its Founding Members; An Illustrated History. Denver: History Colorado, 2015
  18. ^ a b c d Los Angeles Times, March 29, 1927, p.A4 (Burt Johnson obituary)
  19. ^ a b American Art Annual, Volume XXIV, 1926, p.342 (Burt Johnson obituary)
  20. ^ Blackstock, Joe (January 11, 2016). "Key historical sites locally may get their due in 2016". Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. (photographs)
  21. ^ Index of Exhibits. New York: The Architectural League of New York, 1922, p.12