Published: March 22, 2016
Since 2002, the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America (ADA) has honored outstanding individuals, one group and, for the first time this year, a collecting couple for contributions to the American arts. Admired for their ardent antiquarianism and generous patronage of a host of institutions and causes, 2016 Award of Merit winners Joan and Victor Johnson will be celebrated at an April 15 dinner at the Philadelphia Antiques & Art Show, for many years the beneficiary of Joan’s efforts. Joan recently shared her thoughts on a life of giving and doing. Vic, never out of earshot, offered some of the astute guidance and sharp wit for which he is well known.
What have you loved most about collecting?
The people we met and the places we went. Those things have been such extras in our lives.
You balance one another beautifully. How did your collecting partnership work?
Vic has kept me sane. In the beginning, when we were furnishing a house, he encouraged me to be patient and buy well. He kept me from rushing to get it all done. Restraint was important, even though I didn’t always appreciate it at the time.
Is Vic as active as ever?
He still gets around all over in what we call his “chariot.” He doesn’t miss a thing that he wants to attend — meetings, appointments and social events. I meet him everywhere, including the theater. The slower he walks, the faster he drives his cart. He has long been involved with the College of Physicians and, of course, Einstein Medical Center, his love since the 1950s. He just endowed a chair there for information technology.
I’ve been a Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) trustee since 1993. Now that we live in the city, I attend things at the Athenaeum and am on a friends committee at the American Philosophical Society. These institutions have wonderful lectures, programs and libraries.
Are you still collecting?
We’re still trading up. Years ago Bea Garvan took me to New York where I admired two Pennsylvania sgraffito decorated redware plates from the Lorimer collection at Levy Galleries. I bought one then and was astounded when the second one surfaced a few years ago at the Philadelphia Antiques Show, where I was thrilled to buy it on opening night. I must say I loved being young and having empty walls.
If you were 20 and just starting out, would you be interested in Midcentury Modern design?
Oh, absolutely. Bauhaus is where I started. I still like Modern design and crafts, though not with my present husband. I could have three different apartments — in New York, Philadelphia and, for Vic, in Paris.
Aren’t you a collector of contemporary artist-made jewelry?
I’ve long supported the PMA’s annual Craft Show, which falls at the right time for anniversaries and birthdays. And I’ve loved New York’s Museum of Arts and Design ever since it was the American Craft Museum and across the street from the American Folk Art Museum, where I’m still on the collections committee and was previously a trustee.
What did you love most about the PMA’s 2015 exhibition “Drawn With Spirit,” featuring your fraktur collection, a promised gift to the museum?
Vic and I had a marvelous time, met lots of people and learned a lot. It couldn’t have been a better experience. It was fun seeing our collection in a different context. When the show was over, the museum staff brought our collection home and hung it exactly as before, in a single morning.
What’s the best show you’ve seen recently?
I absolutely adored “Audubon to Warhol: The Art of American Still Life,” organized by Mark D. Mitchell at the PMA. It was a huge hit. The accompanying catalog was extraordinary, as well. I am really looking forward to Alexandra Kirtley and Peggy Olley’s upcoming exhibit, “Classical Splendor: Painted Furniture for a Grand Philadelphia House,” opening in September.
Do you miss living in the country?
There was nothing more glorious than spring at Hidden Glen, but here I have a magnificent terrace garden. A penthouse garden is trial and error. I’ve enjoyed learning what thrives up high. I have unrelenting sun and horrific winds off the river, but the wisteria vine I planted ten years ago now gives us lovely shade in an eating area. My country garden was all shade.
Vic and I want to say how utterly flattered we are to receive the ADA Award. We’ve had such fun being active in the field and getting to know the dealers. It’s been part of a wonderful life. To be rewarded for it is perfectly amazing!
For tickets to the ADA Award of Merit dinner honoring the Johnsons, contact ADA Executive Director Judith Livingston Loto at 603-942-6498 or email email@example.com.
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