Street named for late Florence artist
FLORENCE, S.C. — McLeod Health on Friday honored one America’s greatest artists and one of Florence’s own by naming one of the main streets into the hospital campus William H. Johnson Street.
“It’s so awesome. You know this is where we grew up, all of us grew up in this neighborhood,” said Isla Myers, niece of William H. Johnson who was on hand with her brother, William Cooper, for the ceremony.
Myers said she grew up on Cox Street — now a brief portion of a dirt road between Cheves and Palmetto streets.
“When I look around, first I looked down the hill. Every day we would walk up and down these streets every day, walk around Florence city. This is just an awesome opportunity for our family,” Myers said of the street naming.
Another brother, Deacon James Henry Johnson, knew his uncle and played a key role in having the street named in William H. Johnson’s honor, Myers said. James Henry Johnson died Jan. 7, 2019.
“When you think about William H. Johnson and what he means to American culture, he should be ranked among the top 10 artists, American artists, in our history,” said McLeod Senior Vice President Dale Locklair.
“There is a purpose to it, it has meaning,” Locklair said of the recently constructed road that will run from Palmetto Street to the No. 5 entrance to the campus and then north to Day Street. Combined with other streets on campus, William H. Johnson Street will form a loop that runs from Palmetto Street to Ravenel Street, Locklair said.
The road had previously been part of John Street.
“Often, inspired by his childhood and his community, Johnson created some of the most important works of art depicting the rural South of the 20th Century,” said Andrew Stout, director of the Florence County Museum which owns several of Johnson’s paintings.
The Smithsonian Institution owns more of his paintings than of any other single artist, Stout said.
William H. Johnson was born March 18, 1901, and was raised at locations along east Cheves Street on land now occupied by the hospital campus.
After growing up in Florence he left the Pee Dee and returned only twice — once in 1930 and again in 1944.
During the 1930 visit he is thought to have painted scenes from the areas around East Cheves Street, said Ben Zeigler, a member of the hospital’s board of trustees.
“This is one of the most significant things this community can do to remember its past,” Zeigler said.
Johnson died in 1970 in Central Islip, New York.
A dozen reproductions of Johnson’s works hang at various locations throughout the hospital campus, Zeigler said.
Johnson is known to have painted at least 1,500 paintings over his lifetime, according to an announcement from the hospital on the street naming.
The street could open as soon as Wednesday following a final inspection by South Carolina Department of Transportation engineers.