WCMFA to host virtual Joshua Johnson Study Day Jan. 14

HAGERSTOWN, Maryland – The exhibition Joshua Johnson: Portraitist of Early American Baltimore presents a rare opportunity for Johnson scholars and art historians to study a significant group of Johnson’s works in one place.

Join WCMFA staff and colleagues Friday, January 14, for a day of intriguing, in-depth conversations about portraitist Joshua Johnson (ca. 1763‒1824/25), one of the first professional African American artists. Joshua Johnson: Conversations & New Discoveries: A Study Day will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. via Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86719686905

 Organized in conjunction with the final days of the exhibition, participants will share thoughts on a variety of topics, including Johnson’s life and historical context in antebellum Maryland, his patrons, artistic style and technique, and connoisseurship. A broad range of speakers and special guests will offer unique perspectives and expertise about this fascinating artist in an informal, conversational format.

The first monographic presentation of the artist’s work since 1988, Joshua Johnson: Portraitist of Early American Baltimore contextualizes Johnson both historically and culturally and explores the key forms of natural symbolism represented in his paintings. Johnson was a freed slave who achieved a remarkable degree of success as a portraitist in his lifetime by painting affluent patrons in his native Baltimore such as politicians, doctors, clergymen, merchants, and sea captains. This exhibition also is accompanied by a scholarly catalogue that is available for purchase from the museum.

To register, email Donna Rastelli at drastelli@wcmfa.org or call 301-739-5727.

This exhibition is generously supported by grants from the following: National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) Foundation, an anonymous donor, Mr. & Mrs. James N. Holzapfel, Dr. & Mrs. George E. Manger, the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area (part of the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority), Maryland Marketing Partnership, Community Foundation of Washington County MD, Inc., Dr. & Mrs. Robert S. Strauch, and Mr. & Mrs. Thomas B. Riford.

Photo caption: Joshua Johnson, American, 1765-1830. Portrait of Benjamin Franklin Yoe and Son Benjamin Franklin You Jr., 1809. Oil on canvas mounted onto hardboard, 37x26in. Gift of Mr. F. Sydney Cushwa, Hagerstown, Maryland, 1994


  • David Terry is Associate Professor of History and Geography at Morgan State University in Baltimore. He previously was the executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and was a research specialist in African American history for the Maryland State Archives. He holds a doctorate in history from Howard University, a Master of Arts in African American history from Morgan State University and a Bachelor of Arts in American studies from the University of Maryland-College Park.
  • Mark Letzer is the President and CEO of Maryland Center for History and Culture in Baltimore. Letzer is an expert in Maryland silver and decorative and fine arts. He became connected with MCHC when he was researching for his book, The Diary of William Faris: The Daily Life of an Annapolis Silversmith, which was published in 2003. In addition, he has written numerous articles on Maryland silver and decorative arts and lectured on the topic. Previously, he served as the Chief Development Officer for the Maryland Historical Society.
  • Anne Verplanck is Associate Professor of American Studies for Penn State-Harrisburg. She teaches courses in American art and visual culture, social and cultural history, American decorative arts and material culture, museum studies and heritage studies. Prior to becoming part of the Penn State-Harrisburg faculty she worked in the museum field for 30 years. She is the former Curator of Prints and Paintings at Winterthur Museum where she also served as Interim Director of Museum Collections and Interim Director of the Research Fellowship Program.
  • Linda Crocker Simmons has spent over 40 years in the museum field. Since 1998 she has held the title of Curator Emerita for the Corcoran Gallery of the Art. She has also worked with private and institutional clients including the Alice Ferguson Foundation at Hard Bargain Farm in Accokeek, Maryland. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in studio art and art history from American University; a Master of Arts in art history from the University of Delaware; a certificate in arts administration from Harvard University and remains a.b.d. for her PhD from the University of Virginia. She is an expert in the field of American painting from the end of the 18th century into the early 20th century.
  • Stiles Colwill has been the President and Chief Designer of Stiles Tuttle Colwill Interiors in Lutherville, Maryland, for nearly 30 years. Colwill also operates Halcyon House Antiques with New York City antiques firm John Rosselli & Associates. He previously served as a Board of Trustees for Baltimore Museum of Art where he served as chairman for five years. He also spent 16 years with the Maryland Historical Society.
  • Heather Smith is the Owner and Chief Conservator of Maryland Art Conservation LLC (formerly Art Conservation Services) in Baltimore. In 2005, she began her career with ACS after receiving her Master of Art Conservation at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, the previous year. She is a professional associate of the American Institute for Conservation.
  • Sian Jones is the previous owner of Art Conservation Services before retiring in 2018 after more than 30 years. She studied art conservation at the State University of New York at Oneonta, and studied art at Goucher College in Baltimore.
  • Phillipe Halbert is a doctoral candidate with the Department of History of Art at Yale University. He studies the intersection of art and identity in Colonial America and early modern Europe. For more than a decade he has been an independent museum consultant and has served as a guest curator at a variety of historic sites and museums. He has a Master of Philosophy in art history, criticism and conservation from Yale University and a Master of Arts in American material culture from the University of Delaware. He was a dual major in French and Francophone studies and history at The College of William and Mary where he received his undergraduate degree.


Themes & Schedule

9 a.m.: Introduction: Sarah Hall, Director Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. Opening Remarks: Kellie Mele, Director of Education for WCMFA.

9:30 to 10:30 a.m. — Who Was Joshua Johnson? David Terry, Associate Professor of History and Geography at Morgan State University, and Daniel Fulco, Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Curator at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

10:30 to 11 a.m. — The Artist’s Patrons. Mark Letzer, President & CEO, Maryland Center for History and Culture; Stiles Colwill of Stiles T. Colwill Interiors; and Linda Crocker Simmons, Curator Emerita, Corcoran Gallery of Art


11:15 to 12:15 p.m. — This hour-long conversation features our panelists discussing Johnson’s influence and style, addressing his predecessors and contemporaries, some of whom are on view in a companion exhibition at the WCMFA.

Lunch Break: 12:15 to 1 p.m.

1:15 to 2 p.m. — Johnson’s Cultural and Historical Context and Relationship to Baltimore Society, David Terry, Daniel Fulco and Philippe Halbert, Ph.D. candidate, Department of the History of Art, Yale University

2:15 to 3 p.m. — Connoisseurship: technique, materials, and conservation. See the Yoe family portraits up close. Heather Smith, Conservator, Maryland Art Conservation and Sian Jones, Art Conservator, Anne Verplanck, Associate Professor of American Studies for Penn State-Harrisburg; and Stiles Colwill.


3:15 to 4 p.m. — Future Directions. In this concluding segment, panels will discuss Johnson in public and private collections. Other topics include the art market as well as new research and directions in the field.

Maryland Open for Business

Heart of Civil War