#
Mathematical Paintings of Crockett JohnsonResources

### Selected Works of David Crockett Johnson

*Barnaby*, New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, 1943.

*Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley*, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1944.

*Harold and the Purple Crayon*, New York: Harper 7 Row, 1955.

“A Geometrical Look at vp,”

*Mathematical Gazette*, 54 (Feb 1970): 59-60.

“On the Mathematics of Geometry in My Abstract Paintings,”

*Leonardo*, 5 (1972): 97-101.

“A construction for a regular heptagon,”

*Mathematical Gazette*, 17 (March 1975): 17-21.

Papers of Crockett Johnson, Mathematics Collections, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

Correspondence in the Harley Flanders Papers, Mathematics Collections, National Museum of American History.

Correspondence in the Ad Reinhardt Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

### Selected Works about Crockett Johnson

Stephanie Cawthorne and Judy Green, “Cubes, Conic Sections, and Crockett Johnson,” *Convergence*, vol. 11, 2014. http://www.maa.org/publications/periodicals/convergence/cubes-conic-sections-and-crockett-johnson

Stephanie Crawthorne and Judy Green, “Harold and the Purple Heptagon,” *Math Horizons* (September 2009): 5-9.

Philip Nel, “Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art,” *Comic Art*, 5 (2004): 2-18.

Philip Nel. *Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: A Biography*, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, in preparation.

James B. Stroud, “Crockett Johnson's Geometric Paintings,” *Journal of Mathematics and the Arts*, 2 #2 (June 2008): 77-99.

For a more detailed bibliography and further information, see the Crockett Johnson Web site created and maintained by Philip Nel.

For a description of American mathematics and science education at the time of Crockett Johnson’s paintings, see the Museum's Web site: “Mobilizing Minds: Teaching Math and Science in the Age of Sputnik.”

### Credits

This introduction and the accounts of Crockett Johnson paintings given below have benefited from insights of Uta C. Merzbach, Judy Green, J. B. Stroud, Philip Nel, Mark Kidwell, Emmy Scandling, and Joan Krammer.

"Mathematical Paintings of Crockett Johnson - Resources" showing 80 items.

Page 8 of 8

## Painting -

*Archimedes Transversal*- Description
- The construction of regular polygons using straightedge and compass alone is a problem that has intrigued mathematicians from ancient times. Crockett Johnson was particularly interested in the construction of regular seven-sided figures or heptagons, which require not only a compass but a marked straight edge. The mathematician Archimedes reportedly proposed such a construction, which was included in a treatise now lost. Relying heavily on Thomas Heath's
*Manual of Greek Mathematics*, Crockett Johnson prepared this painting.

- Archimedes had reduced the problem of finding a regular hexagon to that of finding two points that divided a line segment into two mean proportionals. He then used a construction somewhat like that of the painting to find a line segment divided as desired. Crockett Johnson's papers include not only photocopies of the relevant portion of Heath, but his own diagrams.

- The painting is #104 in the series. It is in acrylic or oil on masonite., and has purple, yellow, green and blue sections. There is a black wooden frame. The painting is unsigned and undated. Relevant correspondence in the Crockett Johnson papers dates from 1974.

- References: Heath, Thomas L.,
*A Manual of Greek Mathematics*(1963 edition), pp. 340–2.

- Crockett Johnson, "A construction for a regular heptagon,"
*Mathematical Gazette*, 59 (March 1975): pp. 17–18.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- ca 1974

- referenced
- Archimedes

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.71

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.71

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Heptagon 1:3:3 Triangle*- Description
- This painting is part of Crockett Johnson's exploration of the properties of the heptagon, extended to include a 14-sided regular polygon. The design of the painting is shown in his figure, which includes many of the line segments in the painting. Here Crockett Johnson argues that the triangle ABF in the figure is the one he sought, with angle FAB being one seventh of pi. Segment CD in the figure, which appears in the painting, is the length of the edge of a regular 14-sided figure inscribed in a portion of the larger circle shown.

- The painting, of oil or acrylic on masonite, is number 105 in the series. It is drawn in shades of cream, blue, and purple on a light purple background. It has a metal frame and is unsigned.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- ca 1973

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.72

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.72

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Heptagon Stated By Seven Toothpicks (Between Parallels)*- Description
- This whimsical painting is part of Crockett Johnson's exploration of ways to represent the sides and angles of a regular heptagon using line segments of equal length. In its mathematics, it follows closely the construction from isosceles triangles within a rhombus used in the painting
*Heptagon from Ten Equal Lines*(#104 in the series - 1979.1093.71). However, both the line segments shown and the appearance of the paintings are quite different.

- Here three pairs of carefully selected equal lines at appropriate equal angles combine with a seventh line of equal length to give a construction of three sides and two angles of a regular heptagon. All but one of the endpoints of the lines lie on a parallelogram (the rhombus mentioned previously), hence the title. The segment of the heptagon is on the right side of the painting. In Crockett Johnson's figure for the work, the segment is lettered BCPE.

- The painting, in oil or acrylic on masonite, is #106 in the series. It has a dark purple background. The pairs of line segments are in turquoise, green, and lavender, with the vertical one in white. This increases the drama of the painting, but obscures the heptagon. There is a wooden frame. The painting is signed on the back: HEPTAGON STATED BY (/) SEVEN TOOTHPICKS (/) (BETWEEN PARALLELS) (/) Crockett Johnson 1973.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1973

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.73

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.73

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Heptagon from Its Seven Sides*- Description
- Toward the end of his life, Crockett Johnson took up the problem of constructing a regular seven-sided polygon or heptagon. This construction, as Gauss had demonstrated, requires more than a straight edge and compass. Crockett Johnson used compass and a straight edge with a unit length marked on it. Archimedes and Newton had suggested that constructions of this sort could be used to trisect the angle and to find a cube with twice the volume of a given cube, and Crockett Johnson followed their example.

- One may construct a heptagon given an angle of pi divided by seven. If an isosceles triangle with this vertex angle is inscribed in a circle, the base of the triangle will have the length of one side of a regular heptagon inscribed in that circle. According to Crockett Johnson's later account, in the fall of 1973, while having lunch in the city of Syracuse on Sicily during a tour of the Mediterranean, he toyed with seven toothpicks, arranging them in various patterns. Eventually he created an angle with his menu and wine list and arranged the seven toothpicks within the angle in crisscross patterns until his arrangement appeared as is shown in the painting.

- Crockett Johnson realized that the vertex angle of the large isosceles triangle shown is exactly π/7 radians, as desired. The argument suggested by his diagram is more complex than what he later published. The numerical results shown in the figure suggest his willingness to carry out detailed calculations.

*Heptagon from its Seven Sides*, painted in 1973 and #107 in the series, shows a triangle with purple and white sections on a navy blue background. This oil or acrylic painting on masonite is signed on its back : HEPTAGON FROM (/) ITS SEVEN SIDES (/) (Color sketch for larger painting) (/) Crockett Johnson 1973. No larger painting on this pattern is at the Smithsonian.

- Reference: Crockett Johnson, "A Construction for a Regular Heptagon," Mathematical Gazette, 1975, vol. 59, pp. 17–21.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1973

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.74

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.74

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Heptagon from Ten Equal Lines*- Description
- This is one of a series of paintings in which Crockett Johnson explored ways of constructing the regular heptagon. The construction is his own, and a drawing for it is attached to the back of the painting. By an arrangement of ten equal line segments, he produced three sides and two angles of a regular heptagon. Two sides and one angle are actually shown in the painting.

- Crockett Johnson supposed that four equal isosceles triangles, constructed with six equal line segments, were arranged as shown in his figure to form sides of a rhombus and of a parallelogram within it. Two adjacent sides of the rhombus also served as the long sides of equal triangles oriented in the opposite direction. Finally, a line parallel to one of these sides passed through points of intersection of the sides of triangles.

- More specifically, in the drawing triangles BAF, DAR, DKE, and HBE are arranged within rhombus ABED, and around a central parallelogram. Two other equal triangles DES and BAG are also included. AFand EJ intersect at a point C and EK and BH at a point P. The tenth line, UL parallel to BE, passes through points C and P. Crockett Johnson claimed that BCPE represents three sides of a regular heptagon. His argument appears in his papers. The painting shows only the ten equal lines described in the title.

- The sections of the rhombus are in black, white, and rose, with a purple background. There is a wooden frame painted purple. This oil painting on masonite is #109 in the series. It is marked on the back: HEPTAGON FROM TEN EQUAL LINES (/) Crockett Johnson 1973. Taped to the back is a sheet of paper with an explanation that is entitled: HEPTAGON FROM TEN EQUAL LINES.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1973

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.75

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.75

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Hippias' Curve*- Description
- This painting is a construction of Crockett Johnson, relating to a curve attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Hippias. This was one of the first curves, other than the straight line and the circle, to be studied by mathematicians. None of Hippias's original writings survive, and the curve is relatively little known today. Crockett Johnson may well have followed the description of the curve given by Petr Beckmann in his book
*The History of Pi*(1970). Crockett Johnson's copy of Beckmann’s book has some light pencil marks on his illustration of the theorem on page 39 (see figure).

- Hippias envisioned a curve generated by two motions. In Crockett Johnson's own drawing, a line segment equal to OB is supposed to move uniformly leftward across the page, generating a series of equally spaced vertical line segments. OB also rotates uniformly about the point O, forming the circular arc BQA. The points of intersection of the vertical lines and the arc are points on Hippias's curve. Assuming that the radius OK has a length equal to the square root of pi, the square AOB (the surface of the painting) has area equal to pi. Moreover, the height of triangle ASO, OS, is √(4 / pi), so that the area of triangle ASO is 1.

- The painting has a gray border and a wood and metal frame. The sections of the square and of the regions under Hippias's curve are painted in various pastel shades, ordered after the order of a color wheel.

- This oil painting is #114 in the series. It is signed on the back: HIPPIAS' CURVE (/) SQUARE AREA = (/) TRIANGLE " = 1 = [ . .] (/) Crockett Johnson 1973.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1973

- referenced
- Hippias

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.76

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.76

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Construction of a Heptagon*- Description
- This is one of three very similar Crockett Johnson paintings closely related to the construction of a side of an inscribed regular heptagon which the artist published in
*The Mathematical Gazette*in 1975. The paper presents a way of producing an isosceles triangle with angles in the ratio 3:3:1, so that the smallest angle in the triangle is π / 7. This angle is then inscribed in a large circle, and intercepts an arc length of π/7. A central angle of the same circle intercepts twice the angle, that is to say 2π/7, and the corresponding chord the side of an inscribed heptagon.

- Crockett Johnson described the construction of his isosceles triangle in the diagram shown. The horizontal line segment below the circle on the painting corresponds to unit length BF in the figure, and the largest triangle in the painting is triangle is ABF in the figure, with vertex angle equal to one seventh of pi. This angle is inscribed in the large circular arc KDC. The side of the heptagon is the chord KC.

- This version of Crockett Johnson's construction of a heptagon is #115 in the series. It has a dark blue background and a wood and metal frame. The painting is an oil or acrylic on masonite. The work is unsigned. See also #108 (335571) and #117 (1979.1093.79).

- References: Crockett Johnson, “A Construction for a Regular Heptagon,”
*Mathematical Gazette*, 1975, vol. 59, pp. 17–21.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- ca 1975

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.77

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.77

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Construction of Heptagon*- Description
- This painting represents one of Crockett Johnson's early constructions of a heptagon. It shows a large purple circle, a pink triangle superimposed, and two smaller circles. Crockett Johnson's diagram for the painting is shown. Two equal circles are constructed, with the center of the first on the second and conversely (circles with centers C and D in the diagram), and a line segment drawn that includes their points of intersection. Then, in Crockett Johnson's words, "Against a straight edge controlling their alignment the sought points B, U, and E, are determined by the adjustment of compass arcs BC from U and EC from B. Angles FBC, CBD, DBE, and BAF are π/ 7." Detailed examination of the triangles in the drawing shows that this is indeed the case.

- The colors of the painting highlight the circles, lines, and arcs central to the construction, and the largest of the resulting isosceles triangles with vertex angle π/7 is shown in bold shades of pink. The short line called CF in the drawing (as well as line segments CD and DE, which are not shown), is the length of the side of a heptagon inscribed in a circle centered at B with radius BF.

- The oil on masonite work is #116 in the series. It has a gray background and a wood and metal frame. It is inscribed on the back: CONSTRUCTION OF HEPTAGON (/) . . .(8) (/) Crockett Johnson 1973.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1973

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.78

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.78

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Construction of Heptagon*- Description
- Three very similar paintings in the Crockett Johnson collection are closely related to the the construction of a side of an inscribed regular a heptagon which he published in
*The Mathematical Gazette*in 1975. The paper presents a way of producing an isosceles triangle with angles in the ratio 3:3:1, so that the smallest angle in the triangle is π/ 7. This angle is then inscribed in a large circle, and intercepts an arc length of π/7. A central angle of the same circle intercepts twice the angle, that is to say 2π/7, and the corresponding chord the side of an inscribed heptagon. Crockett Johnson described the construction of his isosceles triangle in the diagram reproduced. The horizontal line segment below the circle on the painting corresponds to unit length BF in the figure, and the triangle is ABF. Three of the four light-colored sections of the painting highlight important points in the construction. The critical steps are drawing a perpendicular bisector to the line segment BF, marking off an arc of radius equal to the √(2) with center F, and measuring the unit length AO along a marked straightedge that passes through B and intersects the perpendicular bisector at A. Finally, one finds the side of the regular inscribed heptagon.

*Construction of Heptagon*is #117 in the series. The oil painting on masonite is in shades of purple, cream, turquoise, and black. It has a black wood and metal frame. The work is unsigned. The surface appears damaged, perhaps from water. See also #115 (1979.1093.77) and #108 (335571).

- Reference: Crockett Johnson, “A Construction for a Regular Heptagon,”
*Mathematical Gazette*, 1975, vol. 59, pp. 17–21.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- ca 1975

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- 1979.1093.79

- accession number
- 1979.1093

- catalog number
- 1979.1093.79

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

## Painting -

*Construction of the Heptagon*- Description
- Three very similar paintings in the Crockett Johnson collection are closely related to the construction of a side of an inscribed regular a heptagon which he published in
*The Mathematical Gazette*in 1975. The paper presents a way of producing an isosceles triangle with angles in the ratio 3:3:1, so that the smallest angle in the triangle is π/7. This angle is then inscribed in a large circle, and intercepts an arc length of π/7. A central angle of the same circle intercepts twice the angle, that is to say 2π/7, and the corresponding chord the side of an inscribed heptagon.

- Crockett Johnson described the construction of his isosceles triangle in the diagram shown in the image. The horizontal line segment below the circle on the painting corresponds to unit length BF in the figure, and the triangle is ABF. The light colors of the painting highlight important points in the construction - marking off an arc of radius equal to the square root of 2 with center F, measuring the unit length AO along a marked straight edge that passes through B and ends at point A on the perpendicular bisector, and finding the side of the regular inscribed heptagon.

- This version of the construction of a heptagon is #108 in the series. The oil painting on masonite with chrome frame was completed in 1975 and is unsigned. It is marked on the back: Construction of the Heptagon (/) Crockett Johnson 1975. See also paintings #115 (1979.1093.77) and #117 (1979.1093.79) in the series.

- Reference: Crockett Johnson, "A Construction for a Regular Heptagon,"
*Mathematical Gazette*, 1975, vol. 59, pp.17–21.

- Location
- Currently not on view

- date made
- 1975

- painter
- Johnson, Crockett

- ID Number
- MA*335571

- accession number
- 322732

- catalog number
- 335571

- Data Source
- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center