Published: April 19, 2016
Story by Laura Beach,
Photos by Greg Smith
PHILADELPHIA, PENN. — Members of the Antiques Dealers Association of America (ADA) and others came together on Friday evening, April 15, to honor Joan and Victor Johnson, the Philadelphia collectors and philanthropists whose generosity to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and to the Philadelphia Antiques and Art Show is noteworthy, especially in the year marking the return of the antiques show after a one-year hiatus.
At a dinner at the show, for the first time staged in a tent on the Navy Yard’s Marine Parade Grounds, ADA President James Kilvington welcomed guests and thanked those who made the show and dinner possible.
“This would never have happened without Anne Hamilton,” said Kilvington, singling out the fair’s dynamic co-chair, who worked in partnership with co-chair Nancy Kneeland; show managers Diana Bittel, Karen DiSaia and Ralph DiSaia; and ADA supporters Greta and Martin Greenacre, among others.
Kilvington then turned his attention to Joan Johnson, an influential presence in the trade over many years. As the ADA president recalled, “When I first went into business, a prominent dealer told me to watch what Joan Johnson buys. He said, ‘When she hands a piece back to you without asking the price, find out what’s wrong with it.’”
Keynote speakers Alexandra Kirtley, the Montgomery-Garvan curator of American decorative arts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Linda E. Johnson, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library and one of the Johnsons’ two daughters, shared the stage. In a lighthearted exchange, they riffed on the fact that they both attended Hamilton College and that their mothers were both Goucher College alumna.
Illustrating her presentation with comically captioned photographs of the Johnsons through the years, Kirtley said, “Everyone who has come to celebrate Joan and Victor has a story to tell about them.” She noted, “Joan and Victor embraced all aspects of collecting, They enjoyed kinship with collectors, dealers and curators.”
It was an adventure getting to know the couple, Kirtley said tongue-in-cheek, recalling the time that she and Joan were trapped on the terrace of the Johnsons’ Washington Square high-rise apartment, unable to attract Victor’s attention even by tossing their shoes to the balcony below. Kirtley proceeded to note the couple’s ardent support of the museum’s programs, galleries and collections. A museum trustee since 1993, Joan Johnson played a crucial role in the installation of the 2015 exhibition “Drawn With Spirit: Pennsylvania German Fraktur from the Joan and Victor Johnson Collection.” Of Joan Johnson’s contributions to the Philadelphia Antiques Show, where she chaired the annual loan exhibition, Kirtley said, “She made it a spectacular and enduringly scholarly event.”
“It’s so very heartwarming to see so many great dealers and collectors here. Growing up, collecting formed the rhythm of our lives. At the base of all were the relationships Joan and Victor formed with all of you. Through you, they formed the knowledge that they passed to others,” Linda Johnson began.
Weaving madcap tales through her presentation, Linda Johnson recalled a few of the dealers who were presences in her parents’ lives: Leon David of David David Gallery, who urged Victor to give his wife books so that she might educate herself on collecting; Harry Hartman and Oliver Overlander, who did more than most to shape Joan’s taste; Robert Carlen, who sold the couple their first Edward Hicks painting; Peter Tillou, a formidable figure in the folk art field; Roger Bacon, who sold the couple an important early Pennsylvania chair; and David Schorsch, a family friend who, even as a child, possessed a precocious eye.
Linda Johnson concluded, “Joan and Victor are deeply indebted to all of you. Collecting has enriched our lives in so many ways. Thank you, Mom and Dad.”
After brief thanks from Joan and Victor Johnson, the evening ended with a surprise birthday cake for Bruce Perkins of Flather and Perkins Insurance, a sponsor of the evening.
Past winners of the ADA Award of Merit are Albert Sack, Elinor Gordon, Wendell Garrett, Betty Ring, R. Scudder Smith, Satenig St Marie, Dean F. Failey, Joe Kindig, Philip Zea, Jane and Richard Nylander, Morrison H. Heckscher, the American Folk Art Society, Peter Tillou, Brock Jobe and David McCullough.
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