Johnson learned to work copper sheet metal in the 1920s as an assistant in the studio of sculptor Beniamino Bufano, one of his instructors at the California School of the Fine Arts in San Francisco. The stylized oval of the face, generous lips, and wide nose reflect Johnson’s aim to show the “pure American Negro.” He said he wanted to depict the “natural beauty and dignity in that characteristic lip, that characteristic hair, bearing and manner.” With Mask, Johnson situated the image of the black face within a dialogue about race taking place among the poets and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance: Alain Locke, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes.


  • Title: Mask
  • Creator: Sargent Johnson
  • Date Created: 1930/1935
  • Physical Dimensions: 15 1/2 x 13 1/2 x 6 in. (39.4 x 34.3 x 15.3 cm)
  • Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of International Business Machines Corporation
  • Artist: Born Boston, MA 1887 – Died San Francisco, CA 1967
  • Medium: copper on wood base

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