Working in the Spirit: The Visionary Art & Life of Elder Anderson Johnson
The son of a Lunenburg County sharecropper, eight-year-old Anderson Johnson was hoeing his father's cornfield when he was struck by a life-changing vision of angels. Baptized at the age of 12 by Bishop C.M. "Sweet Daddy" Grace, he began his ministry and became an attraction on the revival circuit. In the ensuing years, Johnson traveled throughout the United States, teaching himself to draw, play piano and guitar and preach the gospel. In mid-life, God instructed him to settle in Newport News. In his home at 1224 Ivy Avenue, he established his house of worship, the Faith Mission. To attract passersby so that he might bring them to Jesus, he adorned both the exterior and interior with folk art paintings. Some were life-size wall murals; most were done on cardboard and other scrap materials. His milieu was a mystical realm populated with thousands of faces - portraits of U.S. presidents, women, figures from the Bible, celebrities, animals and foremost, angels. In 1987, the city of Newport News purchased his home for an urban renewal project. Prior to demolition, the murals and other significant pieces were removed so that they might become part of a permanent exhibition highlighting his story. Utilizing over 600 pieces of visual art and architectural salvage, the gallery at Downing-Gross Cultural Arts Center recreates vignettes from the Faith Mission. The theater offers an orientation film "Bound for the Promised Land' which incorporates footage of Johnson at praise in sermon and song. You are invited to enter the world of Anderson Johnson --his Zion-- to view the man and his work on his own terms.