Roman Johnson in the News

African American painter Roman Johnson was the subject of an article in the Sunday, March 1 edition of the Columbus Dispatch:

Local Artist Roman Johnson’s Standing Growing After Death

Courtesy of, Arnett Howard and Roman Johnson at Emerson Burkhart's home.

Courtesy of, Arnett Howard and Roman Johnson at Emerson Burkhart’s home.

In regard to Johnson, Ohio History Connection curator Emily Lang states in the article:

He’s just not Emerson Burkhart’s protege anymore. He’s starting to get recognized as a great artist in his own right.

On why Roman Johnson is not better known, Lang commented:

He was immensely, immensely talented, but he never sold himself.

Johnson was the topic of a curator talk given by Ms. Lang at the Ohio History Center on February 28. On display for the program was the first ever painting by Johnson acquired by the Ohio History Connection. The painting, created by Johnson in 1987, depicts a Columbus house located near Woodland Avenue on the East Side. Johnson frequently painted scenes in the Olde Towne East and King-Lincoln neighborhoods.

To read more about Roman Johnson, click here to a previous post by Ms. Lang.

To find out about upcoming curator talks check the Ohio History Connection event calendar.

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Curators in the News

In honor of African American History Month manuscripts curator and military historian John Haas was interviewed about black soldiers participation in the Civil War and World War I.

Click here to listen to John’s interview with WCPN.

Black Brigade of Cincinnati Flag from the Ohio Battle Flag Collection.

Black Brigade of Cincinnati Flag from the Ohio Battle Flag Collection.

If you would to know more join John for his curator talk, Eagles on Their Buttons: Ohio’s African American Soldiers in the Civil War and World War I.

Date:February 21, 2015

Time: 2 PM (Eastern Standard Time)

Location: Museum Floor of the Ohio History Center at 800 E. 17th Ave, Columbus

Cost: Free with museum admission

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Warren G. Harding: President and Waffle Aficionado

Warren G. Harding and Florence Harding sitting on the porch of their home in Marion, Ohio, during the 1920 presidential campaign.

Warren G. Harding and Florence Harding sitting on the porch of their home in Marion, Ohio, during the 1920 presidential campaign.

“You eat the first fourteen waffles without syrup, but with lots of butter. Then you put syrup on the next nine, and the last half-dozen you eat simply swimming in syrup. Eaten that way, waffles never hurt anybody.”

– Warren Harding

President Warren G. Harding was born on November 2, 1865, in Blooming Grove, Ohio. He spent most of his youth in the Marion County village of Caledonia, Ohio. At age 19, he bought The Marion Daily Star, a newspaper in Marion, Ohio, eventually becoming the sole owner and acting as publisher and editor; this set off his political career that led to the White House.

H 16406, early 20th century waffle iron currently on exhibit at the Harding Home.

H 16406, early 20th century waffle iron currently on exhibit at the Harding Home

Belgium and Dutch in origin, waffles are amongst some of the earliest dishes in post-contact American history. Waffles first appeared in the United States in1620 when the Pilgrims brought the recipe on the Mayflower after discovering them during their brief stop in Holland. The presidential love of waffles dates to the 18th century; Thomas Jefferson reportedly started a mini American waffle craze during the 1790s when he returned from France with a goose-handled waffle iron. The earliest waffle irons were made of two hinged iron plates connected to two long wooden handles; these plates were often imprinted with elaborate patterns. On August 24th 1869, Cornelius Swartwout patented the first American waffle iron, making waffle production easier with cast-iron plates joined by a hinge that swiveled in a cast-iron collar, solidifying waffles place in American history.

Harding was as passionate about waffles as he was about politics. Dating back to his childhood, Harding requested waffles daily, either with syrup and butter, or his favorite chipped beef gravy. Though Florence Harding was not known to be a good cook, she quickly perfected her waffle recipe after her marriage to Warren in 1891. When guests came to the house, Florence Harding could often be seen dishing up stacks of waffles on plates, covering them in gravy.

Photograph of Warren G. and Florence Harding dining with guests at their home in Marion, Ohio, during the 1920 presidential campaign.

Photograph of Warren G. and Florence Harding dining with guests at their home in Marion, Ohio, during the 1920 presidential campaign.

In 1920, Florence Harding’s waffle recipe was published becoming a hit in households across the nation. The recipe became a symbol of a larger national campaign known as “Back to Normalcy”. This campaign aimed to return to the way of life before World War I. Florence Harding’s waffle recipe was comforting in a time of political and social unease. The recipe called for ingredients rationed during WWI, emphasizing that America was headed back to what life had been before the war. Though there is much debate if this campaign actually worked, Harding made waffles apart of the national identity; they became much more than just his favorite food.
From the Atlanta Woman’s Club Cookbook, 1921, Florence Harding’s Waffle Recipe:
Serves Four
2 eggs.
2 tbls. sugar.
2 tbls. butter.
1 teaspoon salt.
1 pt. milk.
Flour to make thin batter. (I used about 2 cups flour)
2 large teaspoons baking powder
Separate the eggs
Beat yolks and add sugar and salt
Melt butter then add milk and flour and stir to combine.
Beat egg whites until stiff (but not dry) peaks form
Stir one spoonful of whites into the mixture to lighten and then fold remainder of egg whites and baking powder
Bake in a hot waffle iron.

Emily Lang, History Curator


Avey, Tori. “Discover the History of Chicken and Waffles.” PBS. January 18, 2013. Accessed January 27, 2015.

Crumpacker, Bunny. “Chewing the Sound Bite: Political Gastronomy.” In The Sex Life of Food: When Body and Soul Meet to Eat, 160. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2006.

Cuneo, Sherman A., and Warren G. Harding. “Fondness for Children.” In From Printer to President,, 132. Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1922.

Stephey, M.J. “Waffles.” Time. November 23, 2009. Accessed January 27, 2015.,9171,1942956,00.html.



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Such are the Consequences of Secession

Cyrus Marion Roberts, my great-great grandfather, was a Captain in the 78th Ohio Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War. He was born in Morgan County and died in Granville where he is buried. He kept a diary during the war, which I was privileged to donate to the Ohio History Connection.

Cyrus Marion Roberts, July 1865.

Cyrus Marion Roberts, July 1865.

Although I am an Ohio History Connection Curator of Archaeology and not History, I have had an abiding interest in the Civil War since I was a child. During this 150th anniversary of the Civil War, I’ve been re-reading Roberts’ diary and occasionally posting a few of the more interesting entries on my Facebook page. In reading about the history he was living 150 years ago, it occurred to me that some of his observations might be of interest to a wider circle of folks than just my Facebook friends.

In January of 1865, Roberts returned to his regiment having spent the previous two years on detached service with the U. S. Army Signal Corps. The Army of General William Tecumseh Sherman was about to begin its march northward through the Carolinas.

Roberts was placed in charge of foraging for food and other supplies for the Second Brigade, Third Division, Seventeenth Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee. He and his men would scour the countryside along the route of the Army’s advance and commandeer anything that might be of use to the Union Army while destroying anything that might give aid and comfort to the Confederate Army. He must have done his job well, for the History of the 78th Regiment reports that “the regiment under the efficient energy and activity of Captain C. M. Roberts… sat down to a sumptuous supper every night.”

The flag of the 78th OVI.

The flag of the 78th OVI.

Sherman’s foragers have been criticized for engaging in fairly discriminant looting, but this was not true for the foragers under Roberts’ command. As one example, Roberts’ men found a large number of items buried near the home of Mrs. L. M. Kitt whose husband had been a “famous Secessionist.” Burying valuables in gardens was a common practice by Southerners in the Union Army’s path, but Sherman’s “bummers” became experts at finding such caches. Among the things recovered from Mrs. Kitt’s garden was “a set of fine jewelry,” but rather than robbing Mrs. Kitt of these valuable heirlooms, Roberts returned them to her.

In mid-February, Sherman’s Army was approaching Columbia, South Carolina – the “mother of secession.” The following entries from Roberts’ diary describe what he witnessed of the destruction of this great city. They are among the most poignant passages in the entire document:


February 16th – Leave Camp about 11 A.M. Our march is over swamps and sandy hills. On a road parallel with the river (Broad) arrive on bank opposite the City of Columbia & Capitol of South Carolina. Cannonading and musketry at long range is engaged in.

The City looks beautifully from our bivouac. The State House and churches are quite prominent. Get no forage today of consequence. The country poor and four Army Corps present & close together.


February 17th – Do not move out early as the 15th Corps is ahead and a pontoon bridge is to be laid across the Saluda & Broad rivers before we cross, but the first is soon cross’d the latter we have to be cautious about, however a Brigade of the 15th Corps is crossed in boats drive away the rebels and meet the Mayor of the City in his carriage who surrenders the City to Maj. Genl. Jn. A. Logan. The pontoon was soon finished and Gens. Sherman, Howard & others crossed. I followed closely with my foragers, and while they were Marching thro’ the City, I pounced upon 3 or 4 plantations near the City and obtained 6 loads of meal, flour, molasses, tobacco, bacon & c. & c. beside a rebel battle-flag, the salt-petre manufactory & several mules & horses – then marched into the City. Saw several intoxicated men (soldiers) on the streets. My Division does not get in till nearly 11 P.M. at which time the City is on fire. A strong wind prevails and desolation spreads far & wide. I never saw such a sight in my life and hope I may never have to see such again – women & children are clustered in the fields & out of the way places with perhaps two or three bundles of individual clothing – everything else burned. These have been worth from 2 to 3 hundred thousand dollars and now homeless —  out in the night air witnessing the burning of their city. Such are the consequences of Secession.


February 18 – Move out early, thro’ the city and along the Charlotte and South Carolina R. R. As we pass up the main Street every thing we see is smoke from smouldering ruins, brick walls – and here and there a house left unburned.


You can read the Roberts diaries in their entirety online at

Brad Lepper, Archaeology Unit Head

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Beginning Your African-American Genealogy

There is still time to register for Beginning Your African-American Genealogy

Wedding portrait, Henry and Willa Adams Papers, MSS 1297.

Wedding portrait, Henry and Willa Adams Papers, MSS 1297.

Join us to learn about searching for your African-American ancestors from experienced researcher Gayle Wilson. Get direction in locating and using resources specific to African-American research and find out about how those resources relate to basic steps in your genealogy.

Date:February 21, 2015

Time: 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM (Eastern Standard Time)

Location: Ohio History Center at 800 E. 17th Ave, Columbus

Cost: $15 for members of the Ohio History Connection or Franklin County Genealogical
Society; $20 for non-members

To register click here.

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Artist Roman Johnson

Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart is now open in our 3rd Floor Library Lobby and First Floor Spotlight Gallery. Emerson Burkhart (1905-1969) ruled the Columbus art scene during the 1950s and 1960s with his honest portraits and depictions of life in the city. While Burkhart was praised for his artistic skill, conflicts in his personal and professional life prevented him from receiving national attention. Reflections of an Artist: Emerson Burkhart displays never seen artwork by Burkhart, including the original sketches for the controversial mural Music.

On Saturday, February 28 at 2pm, Curator Emily Lang will be giving a talk about Burkhart’s best known protégée, Roman Johnson.

Courtesy of, Arnett Howard and Roman Johnson at Emerson Burkhart's home.

Courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Arnett Howard and Roman Johnson at Emerson Burkhart’s home.

Roman Johnson was born Sept 4, 1917 and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Johnson was a sickly child and his mother encouraged him to draw while stuck in bed.[1] He married his wife Iona in the late 1930s and worked a variety of jobs to support them; they made their home in the King-Lincoln district. Johnson had initially started working under an artist by the name of Cletus Butler. Explaining his decision to go into art, “I do paintings in an effort to enhance or continue the culture of Black people. In the 40s and 50s when I visited the Museum of Modern Art, I never saw any art by or about Blacks. So I decided to do that.”[2]

Emerson Burkhart working on a self portrait, from the collections of the Ohio History Connection.

Emerson Burkhart working on a self portrait, from the collections of the Ohio History Connection.

Emerson Burkhart was well known for painting the residents and buildings of Old Towne East, King-Lincoln, and Woodland. Johnson described their first meeting, “My wife introduced us in 1941.  I came in from work one day, living in Poindexter Village at the time, and just as I walked in the door she said, “Did you see that white man painting on Mount Vernon Avenue?” I said, “No, I didn’t see him.” She said, “Turn around and go back and look in the alley behind the drugstore and there is a white man standing in the alley looking out on Mount Vernon Avenue and painting.  So, go and ask him who he is.”  I put my hat back on and went down to 20th and Mount Vernon and there was Burkhart down in the alley painting.”[3]

“I was still in my good clothes- a spectacular “zoot suit.” After watching Burkhart for a while, I started talking to him and finally asked him if he would teach me. Burkhart told me, “No! I’m a painter. Not a teacher. Besides you’ll never be an artist because you spend all your money on clothes. An artist has to spend money on paint and brushes. Art has to be his life.” [4]

After meeting Burkhart, Johnson stopped working with Butler and studied exclusively with Burkhart for five years. The artists could often be seen on sidewalks, painting side by side. One of Burkhart’s best known pieces, The Confused Process of Becoming, in the collections of the Columbus Museum of Art, is a portrait of Johnson. It took Burkhart 54 sessions to paint the portrait. In addition, Burkhart also painted Johnson’s mother, which became another one of his best known pieces, The Matriarch.

In 1946, Johnson traveled to New York to study at the Art Students League where he spent ten years, studying with artist Edwin Dickenson. He spent a year in Paris on the Scarburne Scholarship, writing his wife a letter every single day, before returning to Columbus. While in New York, Johnson studied under Edwin Dickinson and Ernest Fiene, and exhibited works at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the National Academy of Design.

Courtesy, Ursel White Lewis.

Courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Ursel White Lewis.

After Johnson moved back to Columbus, he struggled to find his place in the local arts scene. Ursel White Lewis changed Johnson’s fortunes dramatically in Ohio. Born in Oklahoma City in 1913, “Lady Lewis” (as she was called) came to Columbus with her ailing mother in 1941. In 1943, she married Howard W. Lewis, who worked in the chemistry department at the Ohio State University. Lewis began collecting art by African Americans in Columbus. Though she was not wealthy, Lewis explained, “Many pieces I bought, a few were given to me.  Sometimes, if I couldn’t afford a piece, I’d wait until I could, or I’d buy something I could afford.  I’d never ask an artist to lower a price for me or give me anything.”[5] Lewis soon began buying pieces from Johnson, becoming one of his largest supporters over the years. She commissioned several pieces from him, including one of his most famous pieces, a portrait of Isabelle Ridgeway.

Courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, exhibit brochure from 1980 at Franklin University that feature four Roman Johnson pieces.

Courtesy of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, exhibit brochure from 1980 at Franklin University that feature four Roman Johnson pieces.

Johnson became a mentor in his own right by the 1970s. He taught painting for the Red Cross, the Veteran’s Administration, and gave private lessons to students from his own neighborhood. Columbus artist Aminah Robinson met Johnson as a child, “Roman inspired me to go out to the street to draw, which I continue to do today. One day it was snowing, and Roman and I said, “Let’s go out and draw.” We went out in the car to the church at Fifth and Rich, where a long line of homeless people waited to get box lunches. We just sat in the car and drew. I drew on several sheets of homemade paper, and when I got home I sewed the pieces together.”[6]

Johnson continued to gain popularity in Central Ohio, showing at galleries and institutions like the Columbus Museum of Art and the Riffe Gallery. Johnson received an Honorary Doctorate of Arts Degree from Ohio Dominican College in 1998, and in 2003 was bestowed with the Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts. Dr. Roman E. Johnson died Oct 24, 2005.

Johnson continues to influence Columbus artists today. Did you ever meet Roman Johnson?

Emily Lang, History Curator

[1] “African American Fine Art Auction.” Issuu. December 6, 2014. Accessed January 29, 2015.

[2] “African American Fine Art Auction.” Issuu. December 6, 2014. Accessed January 29, 2015.

[3] “Roman Johnson Speaks of His Life and Art –” February 23, 2003. Accessed January 2, 2015.

[4] Hall, Michael D. Emerson Burkhart: An Ohio Painter’s Song of Himself. Scala Publishers, London, 2009. Page 109.

[5] “CSCC Library’s Art Collection: Ursel White Lewis.” CSCC Library. Accessed January 29, 2015.

[6] Robinson, Lynn. “Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson: Ongoing Catalogue of Art and Exhibitions.” Box Lunch-Fifth & Rich Streets, Columbus, Ohio. Accessed January 29, 2015.

[7]  “Roman Johnson Speaks of His Life and Art –” February 23, 2003. Accessed January 2, 2015.

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Historic Housekeeping: Wood Objects

Antiques and family heirlooms made of wood are very common in private homes and collections. In my family, we have a beautiful small oak table made by a great-great-great-great uncle that has been handed down and is now my mother’s. My husband’s family has a large collection of hand carved wooden ornaments and wall hangings made by his father’s aunt to celebrate special occasions. Many people take pride in their antique furniture, decorative art pieces, and hardwood floors. In this post, I’ll discuss ways of maintaining and caring for the wooden objects that you own.

As with our textile collection, we take a “less is more” approach to cleaning wooden objects at the Ohio History Connection. Removing surface dust and particles makes up a majority of our regular cleaning of wood. There are several products we use on a regular basis to help gently dust wooden surfaces:

Dust bunny

Dust Bunny

Dust Bunny cloths are lint-free and made of a combination of Tyvek and nylon. This soft material will not damage wood finishes. Dust Bunny cloths are also chemical-free, which means they won’t leave behind any harmful residue or deposits. Dust Bunny cloths are reusable and machine washable.




Swiffer ™ dry dusting cloths

Swiffer dusting cloths can also be used, but only the dry varieties. These cloths typically come with a short handle which the cloth slips on – don’t use this handle when dusting your antique wooden pieces, as parts of the handle can poke through and scratch surfaces. Be sure not to use cloths that have been treated with any sort of cleaning solution. Many store brands also make their own version of these dry cloths.


StarFiber ™ cloths

These square cloths are made of microfiber and, like the Dust Bunny cloths, are machine washable and reusable. They work well for a variety of wooden surfaces.


If the object you are dusting has carved elements, you can use a similar technique that we previously described in our textiles blog post. Using a natural bristle brush, gently “flick” the dust has gathered in carved areas or crevices into one of the dusting cloths mentioned above. Use caution when the brush has a metal piece to avoid scratching the surface you are dusting.

Generally speaking, dusting is the only true “cleaning” method we use on wood. Finished wood pieces can be waxed; however, we recommend waxing very infrequently. Every other year or so is sufficient and will cut down on waxy buildup that can damage wood surfaces. We generally use Renaissance Wax on furniture pieces – be sure to use a soft lint-free cloth (such as the Dust Bunny) to buff the wax off. Use caution to avoid getting wax on any upholstery that may be on wood furniture.

One last note about wooden objects: try to avoid storing and displaying wooden pieces in a room or area where the temperature can change rapidly. Wood expands in the heat and shrinks in the cold; over time, too many of these abrupt temperature changes can cause splits and cracks in wooden objects. Keep objects away from drafty areas that may retain a lot of heat in warmer months and let a lot of cooler air in during the winter.

What are some of your favorite wood pieces that you own? How have you cared for your own collection?

Jessica Mayercin Johnson, Assistant Registrar

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