Elizabeth Johns, art history

Elizabeth Johns, art history

Elizabeth Bennett Johns, Emeritus Professor of Art History at the School of Arts & Sciences, died peacefully on September 12.

Born in Dallas, Texas, Dr. Johns received her BA from Birmingham-Southern College, where she received her Phi Beta Kappa degree. She went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and her doctorate from Emory University. Before and during her doctoral studies, she held positions in English and humanities at Albany State College, Clayton Community College, and Savannah State College, all in Georgia. In 1975, she accepted an appointment to the Department of Art History at the University of Maryland, College Park. Twelve years later she became the Andrew Mellon Professor of Fine Art and History at the University of Pittsburgh and in 1989 joined the Penn faculty as the Silfen Term Professor of Art History. She remained in this position until 2001, when she retired from teaching and achieved emeritus status; during the 1990s she also held the undergraduate chair in art history.

Dr. Johns has contributed much to artistic scholarship. His first book, Eakins: the heroism of modern life (1983), won the Mitchell Prize for the most promising first book in the history of art. Dr John then wrote American Genre Painting: The Politics of Everyday Life (1991), supported by grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Woodrow Wilson Center. Winslow Homer: The Nature of Observation (2002) received the Charles Eldredge Prize from the Smithsonian American Art Museum. She has also written catalogs for exhibitions From New Worlds to Old: 19th-Century Australian and American Landscapes and Paths to Impressionism: French and American Landscape Paintings at the Worcester Art Museum. In 1996, Dr. Johns received a Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching from Penn (Almanac April 23, 1996). The award citation noted that Dr. Johns not only “has a knack for asking questions that encourage students to find the answers for themselves,” but also “frequently raises educational issues in his graduate seminars and discusses regular teaching strategies with his teaching assistants…the teaching experience becomes a learning experience.

After retiring from Penn, Dr. Johns served for three years as a Lilly Vocation Fellow at the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross and as a museum scholar at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. in Hagerstown, Maryland. . She was a devout member of the Haven Lutheran Church in Hagerstown and served as chaplain at the Washington County Hospice in Maryland.

Dr. Johns is survived by his brother, Sam Bennett; sister-in-law, Elizabeth Dreyer Bennett; children Alan Butsch (Melissa), Nancy Wersick and Tatiana Johns (Branden Defriece); her late husband Don Evason’s children, David and Cathy Evason; and by his grandchildren, Morgan and Emily Butsch, Dallas and Korben Defriece, Adam and Ethan Caulk and Madalyn Evason.

A celebration of life was held on October 30. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation, or a charity of the donor’s choice. Dr. John was a strong supporter of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Habitat for Humanity, MercyCorps, Doctors Without Borders and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America aid programs.

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