City unveils statue
Bronze sculpture honors artist W.H. Johnson
Amidst the celebration going on around, sculptor Alex Palkovich leaned over and planted a soft kiss on the shoulder of his newly unveiled statue of renowned artist William H. Johnson.
The seven-foot bronze statue was unveiled during a ceremony held March 18 in the West Evans Street Breezeway. On hand for the occasion were Johnson’s nephew and niece, William Cooper and Isla Willette Myers, Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela, Florence City Council members George Jebaily, Pat Gibson Hye-Moore, Teresa Myers-Ervin and Glynn Willis.
“First of all, let us all say happy birthday to William H. Johnson”, said Palkovich in his opening remarks. “Today is his birthday, which makes this day extra special.”
Johnson, born and raised in Florence, is known for his portraits and landscapes depicting the life of African Americans during the 1930’s and 1940’s. His work is on display in numerous galleries and museums, including, the Smithsonian Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City.
According to information from the Florence County Museum, Johnson used a primitive style of painting in conjunction with what was considered a “folk” style, which consisted of the use of bright colors and two-dimensional figures.
Born in 1901, Johnson left his home in Florence at the age of 17 and settled in Harlem, New York. He went on to study abroad in Paris, France. While in Paris, he was introduced to a greater variety of art and culture. After several years, he returned to the United States in 1930. Johnson produced hundreds of works during a virtuosic, and eclectic career that spanned several decades and several continents.
Palkovich shared details of Johnson’s life and said it was an “enormous honor and privilege to work on a statue of such a tremendous artist.” He thanked Florentines for allowing him to make the city his home.
“You did more than just welcome me, you adopted me,” he said. For that, you will always hold a dear place in my heart.”
Palkovich is a native of the Ukraine who came to work in Florence as a CEO of General Electric. After he retired from General Electric, Palkovich transitioned into the life of a full-time artist. Many of his works can be seen throughout Florence including at the Veterans Park and on the campus of Francis Marion University.
Palkovich said it took a little more than two years to create the seven-foot tall sculpture made of bronze.
In his brief remarks Cooper pointed toward the statue and said that now everyone passing by would know about his uncle.
“I’d like for everybody in Florence to be able to say that I know William H. Johnson,” Cooper said. He went on to encourage residents to visit the Florence County Library and Museum to look at Johnson’s works.
Councilman Jebaily said that while he had grown up and lived many years in Florence it was not until a trip to New York City in 1995 that he became aware of Johnson and his work. He purchased the book, “Homecoming: the Art and Life of William H. Johnson,” and began reading about the artist from his hometown.
Jebaily noted there is a mural of Johnson at the Bird’s Nest on South Dargan Street and a street named for him on the campus of McLeod Regional Medical Center.
He said the statue was most deserving and he hope it will make more people aware of Johnson’s legacy.