In 1993, Florence author Amelia Wallace Vernon revealed a history of rice cultivation in Florence County among a community of former slaves and sharecroppers in her book, African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina. The book documents the names of rice farmers, the location of their fields and their unique methods for threshing and harvesting.
John Wales January, a 19 year-old soldier enlisted in Company B of the 14th Illinois Cavalry, had been captured when Confederate calvary overpowered Union forces at the Battle of Hillsboro (or Sunshine Creek) in July of 1864. January’s personal account indicates the severity of the destitute conditions at the Florence Stockade.
In late February of 1930, a twenty-nine year-old William H. Johnson packed up his belongings from his humble Harlem loft in New York and boarded a train for a visit to his hometown of Florence, SC. The man who was returning to Florence was very different from the boy who left in 1918. During his twelve-year absence from Florence, Johnson had studied under Charles Hawthorne at the National Academy of Design in New York.
At the turn of the 20th century, the city of Charleston existed as a shadow of its former glory. The city had historically fostered a distinguished art and architectural heritage during the Colonial & Antebellum periods, but it struggled to continue doing so after the Civil War during Reconstruction. Beginning in the second decade of the 20th century, Charleston experienced a renaissance that flourished largely in part due to the work of authors, architects, artists, poets, & preservationists who rallied behind the common cause of ‘the betterment of the city’.
The first known published mention that refers to this area as “Florence” appears in chapter nine of the book “Sketches and Reminiscences”. Joshua Hilary Hudson writes…”I was elected and on January 6, A.D. 1853, left Chester for Bennettsville. I spent the first night in Columbia by the South Carolina Railroad, I traveled to Kingsville, where I took the train of the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad and traveled as far as Florence, which was then a station in the pine forest without a depot, a rough board shelter being the only accommodation for passengers getting on and off there….”.
Florence native William Henry Johnson, although considered by academics to be a major figure in 20th century American Art, has somehow remained a relatively obscure figure to his hometown community. Over the course of his career, the output of William H. Johnson’s significant work numbered into the thousands. Before he blossomed into the mature artist we are familiar with today, William H. Johnson was another African-American child growing up in Florence SC . Sadly, little is documented about the childhood of W. H. Johnson. The Florence Museum has scoured all available resources to bring you this biography of William H. Johnson that details the artist’s earlier years in obscurity.
The city of Charleston introduced South Carolina to the railroad in 1827 when it formed the state’s first railroad company, The South Carolina Rail Road Company. The economically depressed city founded the railroad company in hopes to boost export revenue to the port city. The Charleston & Hamburg line was completed in 1831…
Florence native William Henry Johnson, although considered by academics to be a major figure in 20th century American Art, has somehow remained a relatively obscure figure to his hometown community. Over the course of his career, the output of William H. Johnson’s significant work numbered into the thousands. A little over 1500 known works whose whereabouts have been accounted for. His large body of work displays a virtuosic talent mastering a variety of styles while maintaining a powerful execution of unified expression. Behind the man’s fascinating body of work, lies a story that rivals the intrigue and complexity of his art. Sadly, this prolific artist continues to remain an unrecognized figure by the city that helped birth him. The Florence Museum has scoured all available resources to bring you this biography of William H. Johnson that details the artist’s earlier years in obscurity.
At times, the museum inherits a work of art that isn’t in stable condition for exhibit. This could not have been more apparent when the museum acquired an untitled landscape oil painting, by Swiss painter Franz Knebel Jr. (1809-1877). The work was in a critical state: the frame was structurally unsound, the canvas was falling from the stretcher, the paint had become extremely dried & cracked resulting in some paint loss, the canvas had suffered from multiple tears, etc…
Objects often find their way to a museum in the most peculiar of ways. This aptly describes the Berretz watercolors that were recently donated to Florence Museum. The donor, a native of the Pee Dee, served in the military during the second World War. While the donor was serving in combat outside of Koslar, Germany during the winter of 1945, his commanding officer returned to camp with a series of watercolors. His sargent had discovered the watercolors in an evacuated artist’s studio overlooking the Roer River.