Johnpaul Jones to receive National Humanities Medal from President Obama

Johnpaul Jones -
Johnpaul Jones
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Bainbridge Island architect Johnpaul Jones is one of 10 winners of the prestigious 2013 National Humanities Medal, awarded annually by President Obama for outstanding achievements in history, cultural studies, filmmaking, cultural commentary and historic preservation.

"It's quite an honor to receive this," Jones said Friday. "It's an honor, as a citizen, to be recognized by your own government."

The medal recipients, chosen by the president personally, were officially announced earlier this week.

The noted island architect, artist and designer, founding partner of Jones & Jones architectural firm, has received numerous accolades for his firm’s work on massive environmentally minded projects inspired by nature and culture. The most notable works include the Balboa Park Land Use, Circulation and Parking Study in San Diego, the Great Spokane River Gorge Strategic Master Plan, the Vancouver Land Bridge and the Mount Baker Ridge Viewpoint.

The National Humanities Medal honors individuals or groups whose work has deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.

According the official announcement, Jones was given the award "for honoring the natural world and indigenous traditions in architecture."

"A force behind diverse and cherished institutions, Mr. Jones has fostered awareness through design and created spaces worthy of the cultures they reflect, the communities they serve, and the environments they inhabit," the announcement notes.

Jones said he had no idea he was being considered for the award, and said he did not believe the news when first informed he had been selected via a voicemail message from the director of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

"It's an out-of-the-blue kind of award," Jones laughed. "It's kind of this wild thing that happened. I was working down in California, near Santa Barbara, and I got this call. I thought, 'Somebody's joking me,' so I didn't respond."

Several days - and several more messages - later, Jones finally decided to give the mysterious stranger a call back and get to the bottom of things.

"You just don't expect that kind of thing," Jones said. "Then she sent the [official] letter."

After that, Jones said, it was a rush of madcap paperwork and applications to get the clearances necessary for he and his wife to attend the upcoming awards banquet at the White House.

The National Humanities Medals will be presented in conjunction with the National Medals of Arts at a White House ceremony on Monday, July 28. The ceremony will be live-streamed at noon at

Considering the prestige of the event, Jones said he is surprisingly calm.

"No, I'm not nervous at all," he said. " I'm more nervous about making sure I've got a shirt. I have to get to Silverdale to get a new white shirt because the one I have won't work."

Based on research done by Jones' wife and daughter, he said that he believes he is the first architect to receive a Humanities Medal, though several have won Arts Medals.

"It's a pretty unique thing," Jones said. "The way they do it, you get nominated by somebody or groups of people and they narrow it down to a [small] group. Then the chairman of the Humanities narrows it down a little bit more. Then they give the list to the President and he makes the final decision."

Jones, a long-time outspoken supporter of President Obama, said he is looking forward to meeting the commander in chief.

"We've supported him in a lot of ways, and my wife and I supported him with money when he was running," Jones said. "It's going to quite an honor to be there and to meet him, and to represent Bainbridge Island."

Other 2013 medalists include literary critic M.H. Abrams; historians David Brion Davis, Darlene Clark Hine, and Anne Firor Scott; East Asian scholar William Theodore De Bary; filmmaker Stanley Nelson; radio hosts Diane Rehm and Krista Tippett and the historical organization the American Antiquarian Society.

"Most of them are educational people," Jones said of the other medalists, adding that he has always emphasized education in his own work. "That's very satisfying to me. Most of my work in the architecture field has been things like the interment memorial and the National Indian Museum."

Jones said he and his wife will leave for Washington Saturday, July 26. They will attend a black-tie dinner Sunday, prior to the official ceremony on Monday.

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