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Arthur Johnson Papers

Identifier: MSS-854-BC

Scope and Content

This collection documents the personal and professional life of Arthur Harold Johnson. Professional materials include music programs, press, photographs, and resumes related to Johnson’s thirty year career as a singer and his wife May Van Dyke’s career as a pianist and composer. In relation to Johnson’s career as a writer, the collection includes published and unpublished poems, short stories and novels, as well as letters to editors regarding possible publication. Finally, Johnson worked as the curator for the Jonson Gallery beginning in 1965. The collection contains business correspondence, working notes on improvements for the gallery and press on the gallery. The majority of the personal items are correspondence, a scrapbook, and a few photographs. The collection has significant holdings on modernist painter Raymond Jonson and the Jonson Gallery. Additionally, researchers will find useful material in the collection on homosexuality.

The collection is divided into four series:

Correspondence (1913-1980): This series contains personal and business correspondence. It is chronologically organized. The personal correspondence includes letters to family, friends and Johnson’s wife. Also of note are Johnson’s ‘letters to the editor’ primarily to the Albuquerque Journal, The Oregonian and the New Mexico Daily Lobo on a variety of liberal issues such as civil rights, labor laws and gay rights. His political views are reflective of the social and political climate of the 1960s in American culture and society. The business correspondence pertains mainly to the Jonson Gallery and the art of Raymond Jonson. There are also letters related to Johnson’s literary works.

Homosexuality (1921-1977): This series contains material related to homosexuality and demonstrates Arthur Johnson’s underground gay life. It includes correspondence with male lovers and exchange of newspaper articles from the New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle relating to the treatment of homosexuals in society such as violence against homosexuals, gay marriage, gay pride, and gays in politics. Also included are Johnson’s penmanship of gay pulp fiction, unpublished short stories and novels that include references to male homosexuality. These unpublished stories and novels provide valuable insight into mid-20th century gay culture and Arthur Johnson’s views on homosexuality.

Writings (1916-1975): Arthur Johnson’s writings are organized thematically the major categories being: novels (unpublished), poetry (published and unpublished) and unpublished writing. Johnson wrote a novel titled the “Chronicles of Hammersbo". The novel demonstrates the influence of his Swedish heritage and religious upbringing. Other writings of significant note are a biographical essay on his brother, Raymond Jonson and poems and sonnets of New Mexico. Johnson maintained a list of his published poems such as “Nostalgia" in Frontier of March 1932, “Northern Death" in Voices of October 1927 and “From Northern Woods" in The Poet’s Scroll, September, 1927.

Photos, Albums and Ephemera (1887- 1968): This series contains a photo album highlighting Arthur Johnson’s leading roles in light operas, family photographs, a scrapbook, which consists of correspondence and travel information, Johnson’s professional memberships, Johnson’s parents' marriage certificate and May Van Dyke’s birth and death certificate.


  • 1887-1980
  • Majority of material found within 1930-1970


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.

Biographical Information

Arthur Harold Jonson was a singer, novelist, poet, brother of the New Mexico painter Raymond Jonson, and curator of the Jonson Gallery. Born on December 2, 1898, the son of Swedish immigrants, Reverend Gustav Jonson and Josephine Abrahamson Johnson, he was one of six children. His father’s service to the Baptist church required the family to travel and relocate on a frequent basis until their permanent settlement in Portland, Oregon in 1902. Jonson attended Reed College, a liberal arts college in Portland, but dropped out after his father’s death in 1919 to be with his mother. He eventually transferred to the University of Oregon (Eugene), graduating in 1923. While attending college, he participated in the Glee Club and sang in church choirs.

Arthur Jonson made his concert debut as a lyric tenor in Portland, Oregon in November, 1925. He met May Van Dyke, a pianist and composer, and they worked together as concert artists. The two married on July 2, 1929. They continued to perform together in cities such as San Francisco, New York, Portland, and Albuquerque. In San Francisco, Johnson starred as the leading role in a series of light operas including, “The Chocolate Soldier", “The King’s Henchman", “H.M.S. Pinafore", “Mikado", “The Bohemian Girl", and “The Barber of Seville". After thirty years in a music career, Jonson desisted from public singing in 1952 and took time off to travel with his wife, who suffered from ill health. Jonson also wrote novels, short stories and poetry in his spare time. While most of his writing remained unpublished, he succeeded in publishing some of his poetry. When his wife passed away on December 8, 1963, Jonson moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico to assist his brother, Raymond Jonson, modernist painter and art professor at the University of New Mexico, with operations of the Jonson Gallery. The President of the University appointed Jonson to the position of curator of the gallery in 1965. Johnson died in October of 1980.


4 boxes (3.5 cu. ft.)


This collection documents the personal and professional life of Arthur Harold Johnson - singer, poet, novelist and curator of the Jonson Gallery on the University of New Mexico campus. Materials include correspondence, unpublished and published writings, photographs, newspaper clippings and music recital programs.


4 series organized chronologically or thematically:





Related Material

Raymond Jonson archival collection, Jonson Gallery, University of New Mexico. (Available on microfilm: Zim Mfilm N512 A52 J6x)

Separated Material

Materials pertaining to Friends of Art and the Save the Jonson Gallery campaign have been transferred to University Archives - UNMA 154, Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections, University of New Mexico Libraries. Materials pertaining to May Van Dyke were transferred back to the Jonson Gallery, University of New Mexico

Processing Information

Contents of individual folders remain as they were upon receipt at the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections.
Finding Aid of the Arthur Johnson Papers, 1887-1980
Jordan Biro
© 2010
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131