a project by Andrea Geyer. 2012 - ongoing

Lotte Jacobi (1896–1990) was one of America’s foremost portrait photographers. Her subjects included Albert Einstein, Robert Frost, Marc Chagall, Alfred Stieglitz, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Born in Thorn, Prussia (now Poland), she was named Johanna Alexandra and given the nickname “Lotte” by her father. In the tradition of her great-grandfather who studied photography with Louis Daguerre, the inventor of modern photography, Jacobi’s father was a respected photographer, and she and her sister followed his example. Jacobi began taking pictures with a pinhole camera her father had constructed for her, and by 1927, she had entered the family business. At this time, she also produced four films, one of which was Portrait of the Artist about Josef Scharl. After a year of photographing abroad, Jacobi returned to Berlin in 1933, just as Hitler rose to power. Although her family was Jewish and active in the political movements of the time, she often photographed German officials who, not knowing her Jewish heritage, praised her work as “good examples of Aryan photography.” She rejected an offer to grant her honorary Aryan status, however, and fled to the United States, where she set up a studio in Manhattan and began photographing the prominent figures of the day. In 1955 she moved to Deering, New Hampshire, where she experimented with what Leo Katz would later refer to as “photogenics”: abstract images made by moving candles over light sensitive paper. She received an honorary doctorate from New England College in 1973.

Gwen John (1876–1939) was born in Wales and is best known for her small scale paintings of portraits and still lifes. She studied at the Slade School of Art in London and lived much of her life in Paris. John exhibited her work frequently in the early and mid-1920s before becoming more reclusive. She was one of the artists exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show.

Francis Benjamin Johnson (1864–1962) was one of the earliest American female photographers and photojournalists. Residing in Washington, D.C., Johnson carved out a career by photographing friends, family, and local figures, as well as working for the Eastman Kodak Company. In 1894, she opened her own photography studio, receiving commissions to photograph famous Washington figures such as Susan B. Anthony, Alice Roosevelt, and Edith Wharton. Johnson later toured Europe, photographing elites, like socialite Natalie Barney, and expanding her practice to include social documentary and architectural photography. A strong advocate for women in the arts, Johnson once photographed herself revealing her petticoat while holding a beer stein, exemplifying the figure of the New Woman. In 1913, she moved to New York and opened a photography studio with her partner, Matti Edwards Hewitt, a home and garden photographer. She also lectured at New York University on women in business and developed a series of studies on New York architecture. Her documentation of historically significant U.S. buildings earned Johnson honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects. Her work is among the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Grace Mott Johnson (1882–1967) was an American artist who grew up on a farm Yonkers, New York. Johnson was fond of sketching the animals on the farm and after being home-schooled, she studied at the Art Students League, focusing on sculpture and painting. During a trip to London, Johnson met Gertrude Stein and was introduced to the work of the Cubists. Upon returning to her home in Woodstock, New York, she became an active member of the artists’ community there. Johnson exhibited several works in the Armory Show in 1913. During the 1930s she also became a civil right activist, serving as an active representative of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People.

Grace Nail Johnson (1885–1976) was an American activist and patron of the arts. She was born in Connecticut; her father was the first life member of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People. She moved to New York where she became associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson was the only black member of Heterodoxy, a feminist debate society based in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century. In 1929, she founded the NAACP Junior League. Nail was friends with Nella Larsen. Eleanor Roosevelt invited Nail to the White House with Mary McLeod Bethune and Numa P.G. Adams to discuss race relations in 1941. During World War II, she publicly resigned from a committee of the American Women’s Voluntary Services because of racism in work projects.

Helene Johnson (1906–1995) was an American poet. She was born in Boston and moved to Harlem in the early 1920s with Dorothy West, her cousin. There, her poetry was quickly recognized by a number of African-American literary publications. Her work was anthologized and heralded by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance. She embraced the vernacular and a new “Black aesthetic” more than her contemporaries had. Johnson became close friends with Zora Neale Hurston. After 1929, her public presence receded. She continued to write, but only as a private poet. Johnson died in 1995.

Lois Mailou Jones (1905–1998) was a painter who influenced many artists during the Harlem Renaissance. She was the only African-American painter to achieve fame abroad during the 1930s and ’40s. In the 1940s and early ’50s Jones exhibited at the Phillips Collection, the Seattle Museum of Art, the National Academy of Design, Lincoln University, and Howard University, as well as at galleries in New York and the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.. In 1962 she initiated Howard University’s first art student tour of France, including study at Académie de la Grande Chaumière and guided several more tours over the years. In the 1960s she exhibited at School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Cornell University. Jones felt that her greatest contribution to the art world was “proof of the talent of black artists. The African-American artist is important in the history of art and I have demonstrated it by working and painting here and all over the world.” But her fondest wish was to be known as an “artist”—without labels like black artist or woman artist. She has produced work that echoes her pride in her African roots and American ancestry. Her paintings are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the National Palace in Haiti, and the National Museum of Afro- American Artists, among others.

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