Skip to main content

Johnson, Virgil C.



Virgil Charles Johnson has been an active professional costume designer in regional theatre for over 45 years. He earned his undergraduate degree in design and art history at the School of Fine and Applied Arts at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts in 1961. He was trained by Raymond Sovey and Horace Armistead, who were house designers for the Metropolitan Opera. In 1967 Johnson graduated from Northwestern University with a M.A. degree in theatre.

            In 1969 Johnson was appointed head of the Costume Design Program for De Paul University/Goodman School of Drama, and was a resident designer for the professional company of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago until 1978. There he worked with such directors as Stuart Vaughan, Douglas Seale, Bryan Murray, William Woodman and Gregory Mosher and Patrick Henry and designed costumes for Douglas Campbell, Paxton Whitehead, George Hearn, Cathleen Nesbit, Anne Meacham and Ken Welsh. His work for the Goodman productions of "The Cherry Orchard and Much Ado about Nothing" received nominations from the Joseph Jefferson Committee in 1973 and 1978. The productions for the Goodman Theatre "The Government Inspector" in 1985 and "The Winter's Tale" in 1990 were both directed by Frank Galati.

            Johnson designed costumes for the Lyric Opera in Chicago, the Washington Opera Society, the Turnau Opera in Woodstock, the Dallas Opera, the Skylight Opera Theatre in Milwaukee, the Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis, and the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in Boulder. In Chicago his work has been seen at the Arlington Park Theatre, the Ravinia Festival, the Court Theatre, the Apollo Theatre, the Body Politic Theatre, the Victory Gardens Theatre, the St. Nicholas Theatre, the Steppenwolf Theatre, the Chicago Cultural Center, the Chicago Opera Theatre, the Shakespeare Repertory, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Lyric Opera Center, the Mercury Theatre, and the Northlight Theatre.

            In 1985 Johnson received tenured appointment at Northwestern University’s School of Communication. His responsibilities in the theatre department spanned from teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in the costume design curriculum, supervision of costume designers for the production program to advising students and serving on faculty committees. Since 1985 he taught Costume Design I and II, History of Costume and Décor, 20th Century Stage Design, Collaboration: Realism and Naturalism, Collaboration: Shakespeare, Topics in Stage Design, Seminar: Studies in Theatre, and Thesis Research. He also designed costumes for the plays "The Fifth of July," 1985, directed by Leslie Hinderyckx, "True West," 1986, directed by Bud Beyer, "Good," 1986, directed by Robert I. Schneideman, "Total Eclipse," 1987, directed by James Coakley, "The Glass Menagerie," 1991, directed by Leslie Hinderyckx, "Mass," by Leonard Bernstein, 1991, directed by Dominic Missimi, and “Titanic,” 2001, directed by Dominic Missimi and performed at Northwestern University.

            From 1986 until 1991 and from 1998 until 2000 Johnson served as director of Design Studies for the MFA program in Stage Design. The responsibilities included the maintenance and the initiation of new academic policies regarding graduate training, recruitment, matriculation, advisement, and promotion of MFA design students. From 2002 until 2004 Johnson was chair of the department of theatre.

In addition to theatrical design Johnson's interests extended to historic costume. From 1978 until 1990 he served as guest curator of costume for the Evanston Historical Society. His costume exhibition entitled "Paisley, Paraphernalia, and Public Life 1830-1940" received a superior achievement award from the state of Illinois in 1988.

He designed costume exhibitions for the Albany Institute of Art, Du Page County Historical Museum, Atlanta Historical Society, Newberry Library, and Chicago Historical Society. Exhibitions for the Chicago Historical Society entitled "Eight Chicago Women" and "Opera in Chicago, 1850-1979" followed in 1982, with a commission to design a gallery for the display of costumes and costume accessories. His designs for the exhibition "Chicago Furniture. Art, Craft and Industry" toured Washington, D.C. and New York City. He served as guest costume curator and exhibition designer for "The Proper Lady: Fashion and Etiquette in the 1880's", which opened at the Chicago Historical Society in 1989.

Virgil C. Johnson retired from Northwestern University in 2007.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Virgil C. Johnson Papers

Identifier: 20/76

The papers of costume designer Virgil Johnon, Northwestern University alumnus and faculty member in the School of Communication (1969-2007), include biographical and teaching files as well as costume and stage sketches and production material.

Dates: 1957-2013; Other: Date acquired: 12/08/2008