Chapter 7: The Accent House

“Thank you for giving me back my youth.” —Rob Florer, who lived in The Accent House as a teenager, to Vernon Johnson in 1996

Candy and Tom Bartlett, owners of The Accent House, then a guest house at 405 North Main Street, had purchased two Vernon Johnson paintings at an auction, but had no idea who he was. Before they met him at the 1990 retrospective of his work by the Historical Society, they had asked the question that many others had previously, “Who is Vernon Johnson?”

The Accent House #1 (c) The Artist's Eye, by Janis Johnson

 The Bartletts had recently bought The Accent House and were remodeling it for a bed-and-breakfast. Constructed in the early 1840s, the dwelling was one of the most remarkable examples of traditional Gothic Revival style in Knox County. It was designed by William Tinsley, a prominent architect who was responsible for several famous structures in the area. Its history goes back even farther to 1800, when Col. John Francis Hamtramck gave the property to Sen. Jesse B. Thomas and William Henry Harrison. Harrison sold his interest in the property to Senator Thomas and eventually became the ninth President of the United States.

When they met my father, the artist, at the show, the Bartletts asked him, given the house’s history, why had he never painted it? “Because it never was in threat of being torn down!” was his reply.

After the 1990 exhibit, the Bartletts commissioned Dad to paint The Accent House watercolor. By then, he was living in Richmond, Virginia, and did most of the work long-distance. Dad finished the painting in May 1991 and sent the Bartletts an invoice for $500. “Tom and I love our painting,” Candy wrote him on June 17, 1991. “I can’t tell you how happy it makes us to own such a lovely piece of art. The ladies at the luncheon raved about it. I just can’t put into words the effect it has had. I thank you so much for doing it for us.”

Four years later, Rob Florer, a British citizen who had spent some of his youth in the house, commissioned a second version. Dad’s files tell a story of exacting detail that went into a Vernon Johnson watercolor.

You can purchase a frameable print signed and numbered from a limited edition by the artist. Email me for contact information and to learn more about the historic Accent House and how Vernon Johnson conceived and constructed a watercolor from multiple lenses….

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