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￼Sargent Johnson is widely seen as the first African American artist of note on the West Coast. Born in 1888 and a practicing artist until his death in 1967, Johnson’s body of work spans across some of the most dramatic upheavals in modern history, including two world wars, the fight for women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement. With support from the San Francisco Foundation, this exhibition focuses on a turning point in the artist’s impressive career: a time period between 1936-1949 in which he began to receive support for public commissions through government funders like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFCA). Theses large-scale works often quite literally incorporated into the architecture of the buildings that house them, display Johnson’s ability to produce iconic imagery that continues to transcend simple categorization.
In support of this exhibition, Bay Area photographer Duane Conliffe was commissioned to document a selection of Johnson’s public projects. Amazingly, many of these celebrated commissions are still visible today, including the work “American Pride and Purpose,” which was commissioned for the Richmond City Council Chamber in 1949 and now resides in the lobby of the Richmond Memorial Auditorium.