The last major auction of assets belonging to Johnson Publishing Co., which filed for bankruptcy in April, will take place this month when 100 pieces of art that once decorated the company’s Michigan Avenue headquarters are put on the block.
One of the pieces by artist Carrie Mae Weems chronicles the Black Migration to Chicago from Southern states through a series of seven real-life images. It’s estimated to sell for $100,000 to $150,000.
“The collection represents the stature and history of Johnson Publishing,” said Nigel Freeman, director of the African-American Fine Art Department at Swann Auction Galleries in New York.
A collection of dresses and other fashion items were auctioned on Dec. 6. They had been part of a traveling fashion show the company — which published Ebony and Jet magazines and Fashion Fair cosmetics — exhibited as part of a traveling fashion show.
In July, the company’s historic photo archive resulted in a $30 million profit from a consortium of philanthropic groups that pledged to donate the trove to museums and research centers.
And in November, a group of investors that included former Johnson Publishing executive Desiree Rogers bought the cosmetics line, Fashion Fair, for $1.85 million.
“It’s an unfortunate demise of a company,” said Neville Reid, a bankruptcy attorney who’s working with the court-appointed trustee who’s responsible for investigating assets, selling them and distributing the proceeds to creditors.
“Johnson Publishing was a great, great company,” Reid said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this month. “I mean, I’m an African-American, and Mr. John H. Johnson was a hero, he is a hero, his family are heroes. They started with very little and they made a hugely successful company.”
A total of 105 claims have been submitted in the bankruptcy case, including a number by former Johnson Publishing employees, Reid said.
In 2016, Ebony and Jet were sold to Clear View Group, an equity firm in Texas. The building was sold to a developer who converted it to apartments. Johnson Publishing’s Michigan Avenue headquarters, the only Chicago high-rise ever designed and owned by an African-American, was sold in 2017 and has been converted into apartments.
“It’s sad, but we are getting good results and we’ll finish our job and try to get the creditors as much of what’s left as possible,” Reid said of the bankruptcy proceedings.
The Chicago Tribune said, last year, in appreciation of the contributions of the Johnson Publishing Company to the city and the nation,” A family-owned business throughout its history, Ebony has documented the African-American experience since it first hit newsstands in 1945. (Ebony) shaped culture ever since, coming into its own as it reported from the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s in powerful photos and prose.”