New York United States – 1916 -2010

Cecile Ryden Johnson, AWS, an internationally known painter of the winter Olympic Games, sports and exotic landscapes, passed away quietly after a long illness on the 26th of November 2010 surrounded by family and friends at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, DC.

Her watercolors reflect a spontaneous joy of life and are prized for their luminous qualities, sense of immediacy, power and intensity. She was commissioned to paint live action portraits of athletes from Bjorn Borg to Jean-Claude Killy, Billy Jean King, Steve and Phil Mahre as well as sporting events including the US Open, the Kentucky Derby and the Olympic hockey game between the USA and the USSR at Lake Placid in 1980. Selected as the official artist to paint five winter Olympic Games, Ms. Johnson was frequently broadcast live painting on the slopes and at rink side by ABC Wide World of Sports, Canadian Broadcasting, the BBC, CNN and other networks.

Her New York studio was at the fabled Hotel des Artistes, but she almost invariably painted on location – traveling across the United States, the Caribbean and around the world to capture landscapes both familiar and distant. She distilled the beauty of cities in Europe and Japan and remote locations in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, winning gold medals at major exhibitions, including the annual show of the American Watercolor Society. She painted every major ski mountain in the United States, published as the Memorable Mountains Series in Skiing Magazine and in 2007 was honored by the North American Snowsports Journalists Association with their lifetime achievement award. She was the first woman to be commissioned by the U.S. Navy as a combat artist to paint the activities of WAVES, Women Marines and Navy nurses.

Primarily a watercolorist, she worked in other media as well. She designed stained glass windows for the Children’s Chapel in Chicago, and her design in gold of the Olympic torch set with a diamond was chosen by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Her work is held in many museum and private collections including those of King Gustav XVI of Sweden, Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and Emperor Akihito of Japan. Her paintings have been exhibited in many solo exhibitions and are widely reproduced as fine art prints. She was elected to the boards of the American Watercolor Society and the National Art Museum of Sport.

Born in a blizzard in Jamestown on March 4, 1916, Ms. Johnson always retained a love of love of snow and winter sports. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago and at Augustana and Macalaster Colleges. She began her professional career as a painter in southern California, where she studied with the renowned painter Millard Sheets, learning the techniques of luminous, open-air watercolor painting and a contemporary sensibility to color and composition. She accompanied her husband, the Rev. Dr. Philip A. Johnson, a Lutheran minister, to Chicago, Illinois in the nineteen fifites where she supported his landmark work integrating the first Protestant church on Chicago’s south side, Salem Lutheran Church, a period that was chronicled in his book, Call me Neighbor, Call me Friend. (“Philip Johnson, 75, Pastor Who Pressed for Social Harmony,”New York Times, January 8, 1991.) Following Dr. Johnson’s death, she married lawyer Henry L. Pierson of Sloatsburg, New York.


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