William Henry Johnson’s Jitterbugs II

During his tenure at the WPA’s Harlem Community Art Center, William Henry Johnson (1902–1970) created a well-known series of screenprints depicting gaily dressed couples energetically dancing the jitterbug. One of the most distinctive prints in the series is Jitterbugs II (ca. 1941), which shows a man and a woman swinging their way through the popular multistep dance. The printed colors are bright, the figures are fully in action, and the texture of the screened ink is heavy and rich. A casual viewer can, through this vibrant image, participate vicariously in the Harlem dance scene of the early 1940s; for a conservator, however, it is necessary to both examine the image as a whole as well as understand the materials in detail in order to preserve the artist’s intent.

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