Here's How the Stony Island Arts Bank Is Honoring the History of Johnson Publishing Company

By Tate Gunnerson, Photography by Sam Grant | September 6, 2018 | Culture

Inside the Stony Island Arts Bank, Linda Johnson Rice finds a stunning showcase for the Johnson Collection and Library.

Linda Johnson Rice surveys the Johnson Library’s new home.

Linda Johnson Rice felt a powerful mix of emotions when she first toured the Johnson Collection and the Johnson Library at Stony Island Arts Bank. The space includes rare and one-of-a-kind books by African-American authors along with custom midcentury furnishings, artwork and other pieces from the company’s former home at 820 S. Michigan Ave.

“It was overwhelming,” says Rice, the chairman and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company and chairman emeritus of Ebony Media Operations. ”It’s important for everyone, especially young people, to understand the arc of history and life and culture that resides within those pages.”

The lofty space is a bibliophile’s dream.

As a child, Rice, 60, spent hours at 820 S. Michigan, often perusing books and periodicals in the iconic building’s library. Each of the tower’s 11 floors had a motif: Jet magazine’s level was leopard print, while Ebony’s office sported subtler tones, with a posh midcentury vibe throughout. “My parents wanted things first class, and interior design was part of the message,” Rice says of John and Eunice Johnson. When Rice relocated Johnson Publishing in 2010, there was simply not enough space for it all. Chicago artist Theaster Gates, founder of the Rebuild Foundation, offered a solution. “He said, ‘Don’t worry about this, sister, I’ll take them,’” Rice recalls. “I had no idea what he was going to do with them, but he had a vision.”

Indeed, showcased in the Arts Bank’s second-floor exhibition space, the library’s thousands of volumes are displayed on shelves that take up every inch of the room’s lofted 24-foot ceilings. Also on display: a selection of custom furnishings, artwork and objects that give a glimpse of Johnson Publishing Company’s refined aesthetic.

The Johnson Collection holds a treasure trove of vintage magazines and objets d’art.

“Theaster has brought the collection to life,” Rice enthuses. “When I went to the unveiling, I was so proud I was almost in tears.” The Johnson Collection and Library are permanent; A Johnson Publishing Story, a collaboration with Art Design Chicago, runs through Sept. 30. 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.

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