PRINCETON, N.J. — Kristina Barbara Johnson passed away peacefully on April 18, surrounded by family. She leaves behind her loving daughter, Jeniah “Kookie” Johnson, son-in-law Tom Sheeran, grandchildren Henry and Josie Sheeran and her life partner, Robert Cannon, along with many adoring friends and her faithful giant African leopard tortoise, George.
Kristina was a lawyer, art collector and lover of life and all that life had to offer. She lived large; her energy inextinguishable. Guided by her heart, she left an inedible mark on everyone she met. Her absence from this secular world will be sorely missed.
Born in Berlin, Germany, Kristina came to this country as a student. Her early career was in modeling and advertising. She was an agent for Andy Warhol, Raymond Savignac, Man Ray and other pop culture icons of the time. Versed in several languages, she specialized in engaging foreign artists for American journals and Life magazine.
From cowboys to cars, Kristina became enthralled by anything quintessentially American. She amassed the largest single-owner collection of whaling artifacts, books and manuscripts and became a leading historian in the field. She founded the Whale Research Foundation, Princeton, N.J.
In the mid-80s, she sent the collection off into the world with four sales at Sotheby’s and two auctions at Swann Galleries. She donated her meticulously indexed library to a maritime historical society in San Francisco.
Kristina served on several nonprofit governance boards, including the Arts Council of Princeton, the American Folk Art Museum, the South Street Seaport Museum, The National Maritime Society and the New Jersey Ballet Company.
Her service to the American Folk Art Museum in New York City spanned over 40 years. During this time, she curated several exhibitions, inaugurated an annual lecture series and created a scholarship fund for the Folk Art Institute. She established and contributed to The Clarion, which evolved into one of the most respected scholarly journals in the field of folk art.
Kristina authored, contributed to or was featured in a multitude of news journals, books and other publications including Art and Auction (where she was an associate editor), Arts and Antiques (where she was featured as one of America’s 100 Top Collectors for three consecutive years), Town and Country, Forbes, Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket; Money, Life and the Time-Life books series. She was featured in two nationally televised programs, including Good Morning America.
She lectured nationally and internationally at such venues as the Smithsonian, DAR (D.C.), the Melville Society, Mystic Seaport, the New York and New Jersey Historical Societies, Princeton University, NYU and the American Museum in Bath, England. Kristina was nominated as one of four candidates for Woman of the Year for the Arts at a Bicentennial Celebration sponsored by the Smithsonian in 1974.
Voluntary and paid consulting jobs included the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum, American Association of Museums, Ford Foundation; Time-Life Publications, the White House (twice) and Gracie Mansion. She was an advisor to the Ford Foundation, American Federation of the Arts and the Nantucket Whaling Museum.
She curated, consulted for and contributed to a multitude of exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum, The American Folk Art Museum, the Nantucket and New Bedford Whaling Museums and others. She was most proud of her renowned hooked rug show, “American Classics” in Princeton.
Perhaps the accomplishment of which Kristina took the most pride was becoming a lawyer in 1978. She authored several legal publications and applied herself to intellectual property where she could combine her love for art with her new-found education. She also loved to collect and drive vintage American cars.
Most recently, Kristina’s two grandchildren became her primary focus. She continued to graciously open her home and collection for tours and school trips where in the warmer months, visitors enjoyed her beautiful garden and fed her 200-plus-year-old pet tortoise, George, who had been a member of Queen Victoria’s court.
Private tributes currently being planned will be in June in Princeton, August in Nantucket and later in New York City. For inquiries contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Kristina Johnson Memorial Fund at the Arts Council of Princeton c/o Jeniah Johnson, Director of Development & Marketing, Paul Robeson Center for the Arts, 102 Witherspoon Street, Princeton, NJ 08542 or The Kristina Barbara Johnson Memorial Fund, American Folk Art Museum, Administrative Offices, 1865 Broadway, New York NY 10023.