David Johnson Leisk was born in 1906 and grew up on Long Island. He spent much time sailing his boat, a pastime that would always be enjoyable to him. Artistically talented, Leisk studied at Cooper Union and at New York University, but he didn't settle at one specific job. From working at an ice plant to art-editing magazines, Leisk searched for something that satisfied him. When contributing to magazines, Leisk used his nickname "Crockett" because he thought Leisk was too hard to pronounce. Thus David Johnson Leisk became Crockett Johnson.
By 1934 Johnson took on writing political cartoons, and from political cartoons, he moved to drawing "The Little Man with the Eyes" for Collier's. But he is very famous for the comic strip "Barnaby" about a young boy and his Fairy Godfather which appeared in 1942 in the newspaper PM. Johnson wrote the comic himself until 1946 when he passed over the reigns. Very popular, "Barnaby" was made into a play, a children's theatre, a radio show, and a TV special. Eventually, 52 American newspapers syndicated his comic strip, and Ballantine Books published six volumes of the original comics. Johnson, though, wasn't finished being a well-known figure.
Johnson started a new career when he began illustrating children's books, including three for his wife, Ruth Krauss. He further ventured into writing his own works. The first book he penned and illustrated was Who's Upside Down. Over time Johnson wrote and illustrated over 20 children's books and illustrated seven more. His best known series follows a boy named Harold on his many magical journeys with his purple crayon. Harold and the Purple Crayon was followed by Harold's Fairy Tale, Harold's Trip to the Sky, and others.
A sailor, a writer, an illustrator, and then an inventor and an artist, Johnson seemed capable of doing many things well. In 1955 he received a patent for a four-way adjustable mattress. Then he started painting geometric shapes and ended up with around 100 large canvases. His paintings were on exhibit at the Glezer Gallery in New York, the Museum of Art, Science, and Industry in Connecticut, the IBM Gallery in New York, and the Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology in Washington, D.C.
Active and creative until age 68, Johnson died of lung cancer on July 11, 1975. Ruth Krauss outlived her husband until her own death on July 10, 1993.
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