Training for War

William Henry Johnson (American, 1901-1970)

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This print is representative of Johnson’s most original work. Its folk-like style, with flattened figures and perspective, was a departure from his earlier expressionist approach.

Pochoir is a stencil technique characterized by crisp lines and brilliant colors.

Poking fun at the soldiers’ discipline, the artist also underscores a political message: the segregation of the US Army.

African Americans and the War Effort

William H. Johnson was born in South Carolina and attended the National Academy of Design in New York. His teacher, Charles Webster Hawthorne, raised funds to send Johnson to France to continue his studies. Johnson won the Harmon Foundation Gold Medal in 1929. Later, Johnson set up a studio in Harlem, New York, and became an active contributor to the cultural efflorescence known as the Harlem Renaissance. Johnson spent some time in Europe, where he met and eventually married Danish textile artist Holcha Krake. Upon his return to America around 1938, he joined the WPA Federal Art Project. His assignment was a teaching post at the Harlem Community Art Center. Much of Johnson’s later art focused on his southern roots and his life in Harlem, which he captured in flat, simplified, and colorful forms, inspired by folk art.

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and America went to war, Johnson produced numerous paintings and prints that explored the contributions of African Americans to the war effort. Training for War depicts African American soldiers at a training camp. Johnson approaches this subject with humor, but also touches on racial segregation. The uniformity of the figures suggests the rules and regulations required by the armed forces that result in regimented conformity.

Powell, Richard J. Homecoming: The Art and Life of William H. Johnson. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1993.

Thurlow Tibbs, Washington, D.C.; (Craig F. Starr Associates, New York, New York), purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2004.

Object Information

William Henry Johnson (American, 1901-1970)
creation date
about 1942
color silkscreen (pochoir) on paper
11-1/2 x 17-1/2 in. (sheet)
17 x 23 x 1-1/2 in. (framed)
mark descriptions
Signed in pencil, l.r.: W. H. Johnson
Inscribed, verso: Wm H Johnson / FO-292-A (13) / Training for War
accession number
credit line
National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Indianapolis Chapter, Estate of Hermine Floch by exchange, James E. Roberts Fund
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

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