Early Life, 1891–1910
Raymond Jonson, the first of seven children, was born in 1891 in central Iowa. His maternal grandparents were recent emigrants from Sweden as were his parents, Josephine and Gustav Johnson, who were both born in Sweden. Josephine Abrahamson was born in the Kalmar region and emigrated with her family, settling in central Iowa in or around 1870. Gustav Jonsson was born in Stockholm and emigrated, probably alone, to America in 1882; settling in Chicago, he changed his name to Johnson, was active in the Baptist church, and likely worked for the railroad. They spoke Swedish in their home and were active in the Baptist church in Iowa and also Chicago. It was initially important to Raymond Jonson to maintain ties with his Swedish culture and Baptist faith, and he used friends and contacts in those communities in Chicago to establish himself in the city as a young art student.
The Johnson family lived in many places throughout the Midwest and western United States between 1891 and 1901. Raymond Jonson’s desire to study art became apparent as a child in Portland, Oregon. Kate Cameron Simmons was the first teacher at the art school of the Portland Art Association, where Jonson was enrolled in 1909. Both of his parents supported his efforts as a young art student, financially and within the family structure. It seems that he liked being the center of attention and was a bit of a class clown.
Simmons is of particular interest in Jonson’s artistic development. She was a pupil of Arthur Wesley Dow at his school in Ipswich Massachusetts and possibly at the Columbia University Teachers College in New York. Dow was famous during this period for his theories about color, line, and notan (a Japanese concept involving the placement of light and dark elements in a composition). Dow believed that these composition concepts, taken together, would synthesize Eastern and Western thought. Other famous direct pupils of Dow, such as Agnes Pelton, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Max Weber took his composition concepts and extended them into abstraction, and it could easily be argued that Jonson should be added to this list as well.
Raymond Jonson, the first of several children, is born Carl Raymond Johnson on his maternal grandparent’s farm in central Iowa.
Between 1891 and 1901, the Johnson family lives in many places throughout the Midwest and West. Two daughters are born in western Iowa, another in Minnesota. Two more sons are born in Wyoming and Kansas.
In 1899, the family spends a period of time near Colorado Springs, Colorado, likely Raymond Jonson’s first exposure to the rock formations and Native cultures of the Southwest.
By 1902, the family settles permanently in Portland, Oregon. Jonson’s father continues his calling as a Baptist circuit rider in Oregon and Washington, but the family no longer relocates to different communities every year.
Raymond Jonson enrolls at the first art school of the Portland Art Association; the art association later becomes the Portland Art Museum, while the school becomes the Pacific Northwest College of Art. Jonson begins his studies in art, learning to draw and working with plaster casts of Greek and Roman sculptures. Among his teachers are Anna Belle Crocker, Henry Frederick Wentz and Kate Cameron Simmons. . Note the unattributed photographs of Jonson’s class ticket and also images of him with his classmates and teachers. The adults in these images are likely Crocker, Wentz, and Simmons.