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Johnson, Ruth Pitkanen, 1908-1992



  • Existence: 1908-1992

Ruth Pitkanen Johnson, artist and educator, was born in 1908 in Oulu, Finland to The Reverend Matti Pitkanen and Elin Durchman Pitkanen. When Ruth Pitkanen was just three years old, her family moved to the United States and settled in the upper peninsula of Michigan where her father had been hired by the English Methodist Conference of Michigan as a minister.

Ruth Pitkanen attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on scholarship, graduating in 1932 with a BA in art education. She struggled to find work until 1934, when her former roommate helped her secure a position at J.B. Young Junior High School in Davenport, Iowa. Pitkanen taught at the school until 1938, when she married Norman Johnson and they moved to Gambier, Ohio. The couple moved again in the 1940s, this time to Iowa City, Iowa, to earn their masters degrees.

During World War II, Norman Johnson was commissioned into the Navy. Ruth Johnson remained in Iowa City with their three children. Following the war, the family moved several times, living in Washington, Colorado and Minnesota before settling in Champaign, Illinois.

Ruth Johnson taught drawing theory for thirteen years at the University of Illinois in Champaign, retiring in 1971. She and her husband then moved to Minnesota. They lived there until 1983, when they returned to Iowa City to be closer to a facility which could treat Norman Johnson for his illness, which had symptoms similar to Alzheimer's disease. Ruth Johnson became active at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center, serving as volunteer art exhibit coordinator. She continued to be involved in the Senior Center after her husband's death in 1986. Ruth Johnson died in 1992.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Ruth Pitkanen Johnson papers

Identifier: IWA0350
Abstract Artist and educator from Finland who taught drawing theory at the University of Illinois.
Dates: 1940-1992