The books of Margaret and Helen Johnson
Margaret S. Johnson, and her mother Helen Lossing Johnson, were the authors and illustrators of wonderful children’s books featuring dogs, cats and horses. The pair collaborated on 17 books together, then after her mother’s death, Margaret wrote and illustrated 17 additional books of her own.
Helen Lossing Johnson was born in 1865 in Poughkeepsie, New York to Benson J. Lossing and Helen Sweet Lossing. She studied at the Academy of Design in New York City, and had work exhibited in the National Academy of Design. She also illustrated some of the books her father wrote. Benson Lossing was the author of the Field Book of the Revolution, along with many other books in that genre.
Helen Lossing was married to Frank Edgar Johnson in 1889. She was a member of the Pen and Brush Club, the American Artists’ Professional League, and the Authors’ League, all in New York. She was also a member of the Westchester County Historical Society, the Yonkers (New York) Art Association and the Fortnightly Club, a Yonkers literary group.
Mrs. Johnson died in 1946. She is listed in Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975 published by Sound View Press in 1999.
Margaret Sweet Johnson was born in 1893 in Brooklyn, NY, and then moved with her parents to Yonkers at the age of four. She attended the Academy of Design and the Art Students’ League in New York.
The Johnsons spent many summers at Prince Edward Island in Canada, where both Helen and Margaret painted.
Margaret married William A. Johnson in 1943, and continued to reside in Yonkers. One of Margaret’s landscape paintings hangs in the Administration building of the New York Zoological Society (or at least did in 1964).
She belonged to the Fortnightly Club and the Half Hour Reading Club, and lectured regularly on animals at local schools. Another of her interests was breeding and showing her Shetland Sheepdogs under the Blithewood Kennel name. She was a member of the American Shetland Sheepdog Association, and the Tri-State Shetland Sheepdog Association.
Margaret is listed in Who’s Who of American Women. Margaret Johnson died in 1964.
The books written by the Johnsons are very popular today with dog collectors because of the realistic breed portrayals. They include general background information on the breed woven into the story, plus lots of beautiful pen and ink illustrations.
The Johnsons chose to feature a lot of unusual breeds that don’t have many fictional stories written about them. Many of their books included the doggy subject competing in conformation, obedience, or both.
Other stories revolved around the dog breed’s natural heritage. The Johnsons portrayed their characters pulling sleds, herding, hunting and protecting their owners and the owner’s property.
There is a story of a boxer who is a guide dog, and a German shepherd dog doing coastal patrols during war time.
Some of the books are written with large text for very young readers and have full page illustrations every other page. Others were written for a slightly older audience, with fewer pictures and a lot more text.
Some people collect books by the Johnsons featuring their own breed of dog. Others work to compile a complete collection of their books. A great many of their books were in libraries, and it is very hard to find privately owned copies of some of the titles, especially with dust jackets intact.
Another way to collect art by the Johnsons is to purchase the original illustrations used for the books. With 34 books written, and many illustrations per book, there were a lot of these wonderful original pieces created. The trick, of course, is to find them!
When I purchased an original piece, the seller said that she had bought a number of them at an estate sale in Margaret’s home. My illustration from Sir Lancelot and Scamp is one of my most prized possessions. Occasionally, original commissioned paintings also become available.
The original works I’ve seen for sale have all been offered on eBay, though I am sure others may turn up in galleries or stores featuring dog art.
Margaret and Helen Johnson have blessed those of us that collect doggy items with lots of wonderful works. With a new book published every year between 1936 and 1964 (and in a couple of cases, two per year), anyone that loves art, books or dogs will find something to please them.
I hope you will be inspired to start a collection of your own, or to add to your existing collection.
(c) Diana L Hefti. All Rights Reserved
Yonkers Herald Statesman, January 1946, obituary for Helen Lossing Johnson.
Yonkers Herald Statesman, February 20, 1964, obituary for Margaret Sweet Johnson.
Special thanks to Barbara Kolk, the AKC Librarian, for her help in tracking down and sending me the obituaries. Without Barbara’s help, this article would not have been complete. Thanks also to the Yonkers Public Library for the research necessary to find the obituaries.