Textile expert Laura Johnson joins Winterthur

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Textile expert Laura Johnson joins Winterthur
Johnson brings vast experience as the institution’s first Linda Eaton Associate Curator of Textiles.

WINTERTHUR, DE.- Laura E. Johnson has joined Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library as the new Linda Eaton Associate Curator of Textiles.

“Laura has a diverse, interesting background in both the science and interpretation of textiles, as well as textiles in design,” says Eaton, the John L. & Marjorie P. McGraw Director of Collections and senior curator of textiles at Winterthur. “She is a valuable addition to our fine staff, and we are thrilled that she has come home to us.”

Dr. Johnson joins Winterthur from Historic New England, where she served as associate curator beginning in 2010 until her promotion to curator in 2018 while working on a wide range of projects for its 37 historic properties and permanent collections.

Johnson curated two exhibitions, Mementos: Jewelry of Life and Love from Historic New England’s Collection and Head to Toe: Hats and Shoes from the collection of Historic New England. She also worked on several textile reproductions for Beauport, Henry Davis Sleeper’s iconic Gloucester home.

She developed and led textile tours of the permanent collection, taught in the Program in New England Studies, and conducted research on dress, needlework, wovens, printed textiles, quilts and many other pieces in the collection.

Johnson’s work helped increase the institution’s ability to tell the stories of New England’s LGBTQ+ and BIPOC residents through numerous donations to the permanent collection. She has actively sought collaborations with, and work by, contemporary Indigenous New England artists.

Johnson holds a doctorate in the History of American Civilization from the University of Delaware, as well as master’s degrees in Early American Culture from Winterthur Program in American Material Culture and in Public History from the University of Illinois at Springfield. She earned her bachelor of the arts in Archaeological Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.

Before joining Historic New England, Johnson worked for 10 years as a contract archaeologist in Illinois, where her examination of fiber impressions in Late Woodland pottery led her to the interpretive and textile side of material culture.

As an intern at the Illinois State Museum, Johnson worked on its Amish quilt collection. Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter’s interiors for the Fred Harvey Company introduced her to the importance of considering interior design and material culture holistically, allowing her to combine her archaeological and textile backgrounds.

During her graduate studies at Winterthur, she examined the textile trade of William Penn’s provincial secretary, James Logan, and the role textiles played to create, reinforce, or sometimes break the connections between Euro-American and Indigenous groups in the early American Southeast. As a curatorial assistant, she curated the exhibition Made for the Trade, an examination of some of the pieces made by Indigenous artists in Winterthur’s collection. She went on to complete a fellowship at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Johnson’s work has appeared in a variety of print media, including the 2020 Oxford Handbook of History and Material Culture, as well as Winterthur Portfolio, Antiques and Fine Art Magazine, and Historic New England magazine. Historic New England released her book, Keepsakes and Treasures: Stories from Historic New England’s Jewelry Collection, in 2016.

“I am honored and thrilled to return to Winterthur,” Johnson says. “I plan on continuing Linda’s outstanding work to make the collection a continual source of inspiration and education for all of Winterthur’s students, members, and visitors. It is my goal to strengthen ties with our surrounding communities by listening to them and how our collections might interest them, reflect a broader range of Americans past and present, and reach new audiences through textiles. It’s an honor to inherit the stewardship and care of such a world-class collection, one I accept with great humility. I am not the first to say this, but cloth is life.”

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