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A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster Jr.

October 4, 2006–January 7, 2007
Exhibition

John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854) was a deaf portrait painter who created beautiful and ethereal images of American people during the formative period of the nation. This is the first major exhibition in more than forty years to highlight Brewster’s extraordinary life and work. Born in Hampton, Connecticut, Brewster helped create a style of American portraiture that came to dominate rural New England. Brewster was influenced by the paintings of Connecticut artist Ralph Earl but simplified the settings and introduced broad flat areas of color, and soft, expressive facial features. He was especially sensitive to the sitter’s face, emphasizing his or her direct gaze—as a deaf artist, eye contact became a moment of engagement and communication.

The exhibition of approximately fifty works is placed within the context of four milieus in which Brewster moved and worked. He descended from one of New England’s oldest Puritan families; he traveled easily among the elite families of Maine, Connecticut, and eastern New York State whose portraits he painted; he had exposure to a fledgling deaf community through the establishment in 1817 of the first school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut; and he knew and exchanged influences with the New England portrait painters of his time. These experiences combined to define who Brewster was not only as an artist who was incidentally deaf, but also and just as importantly as a deaf artist. In 1854 Brewster died at the age of eighty-eight. The luminous portraits he left behind comprise an invaluable record of his era and a priceless artistic legacy.

Artworks

Francis O. Watts with Bird
John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854)
Kennebunk, Maine
1805
Oil on canvas
35 1/4 x 27 in.
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0265.1961

Dr. John Brewster and Ruth Avery Brewster
John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854)
Hampton, Connecticut
c. 1795–1800
Oil on canvas
55 3/4 x 46 3/4 in.
Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts

Elizabeth Abigail Wallingford
John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854)
Kennebunk, Maine
1808
Oil on canvas
30 1/4 x 25 in.
Brick Store Museum, Maine

James Prince and Son, William Henry
John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854)
Newburyport, Massachusetts
1801
Oil on canvas
63 3/4 x 63 1/4 in.
Historical Society of Old Newbury, Massachusetts, gift of William Andrews Currier in 1897

Mrs. Thomas Cutts (Elizabeth Scamman)
John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854)
Saco, Maine
c. 1796–1801
Oil on canvas
80 1/2 x 36 1/2 in.
Saco Museum, Saco, Maine

Mother with Son (Lucy Knapp Mygatt and Son, George)
John Brewster Jr. (1766–1854)
Danbury, Connecticut 1799
1799
Oil on canvas
60 1/4 x 46 1/8 x 2 1/2 in.
Palmer Museum of Art of the Pennsylvania State University, gift of Mrs. Nancy Adams McCord, 87.1

Credits

“A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster Jr.” was organized by the Fenimore Art Museum, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, and funded in part by the American Folk Art Society, Robert and Katharine Booth, and Jon and Becky Zoler.

The American Folk Art Museum’s presentation is supported in part by the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, Inc.

Resources
The World of John Brewster Jr. - Exhibition Catalog

By Paul S. D’Ambrosio. Cooperstown, N.Y.: Fenimore Art Museum, 2006. 64 pages.

A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster Jr. - Related Book

By Harlan Lane. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. 191 pages.

Reviews
Intense Visions by a Painter Who Couldn’t Hear
– New York Times