The Missing British Columbia Paintings of Grafton Tyler Brown

Posted in Articles, Arts, Biography, Canada, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2017-03-10 19:44Z by Steven

The Missing British Columbia Paintings of Grafton Tyler Brown

2015-02-27

John Lutz, Professor of History
University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia


Grafton Tyler Brown in his Victoria studio, 1883, Image A-08775  courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives.

Grafton Tyler Brown became the first professional artist in the province when he reinvented himself in his move to British Columbia in 1882. Two years later he headed south to Tacoma and has since become famous in the United States as the first and one of the best Black professional artists in California and the Pacific Northwest. Practically unknown now, his paintings of the Fraser, Thompson, Okanagan, and Similkameen Valleys as well as southern Vancouver Island, were celebrated in Victoria in 1883 when he opened his inaugural exhibition. But Brown, the famous American Black artist, was, surprisingly, a White artist in British Columbia!

Brown was African American by birth. His parents, Thomas and Wilhelmina, were two free Blacks who had left the slave state of Maryland for the free state of Pennsylvania in 1837. Grafton Tyler Brown born February 22, 1841, was the first of three sons and a daughter, all of whom appear as Black in the censuses of the period…

…Whether by chance or more likely by craft, when Grafton Tyler Brown, who had inherited his father’s lighter colouring, was enumerated by the San Francisco directory makers for the 1861, he was listed without the designation “coloured” applied to Blacks. The 1870 census taker called him a “Mulatto” suggesting he was thought to have only one African American parent while that same year the Dun and Bradstreet credit agency called him a “quadroon” meaning that he was thought to have a single African American grandparent. In the census of 1880 he was listed as “White”. Race, the idea that people can be rigidly separated by their looks, proved itself to be quite arbitrary and open to interpretation…

Read the entire article here.

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San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown

Posted in Biography, Book/Video Reviews, History, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-12 20:39Z by Steven

San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown

Arts Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA)
July 2014

Amy De Simone, Research Consultant
Kansas State University

by Robert J. Chandler. University of Oklahoma Press, February 2014. 264 p. ill. ISBN 9780806144108 (cl.), $36.95.

More than just a book about one man, San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown is about the emerging lithography scene in nineteenth-century San Francisco and Brown’s role in it as a mixed race artist and businessman. Author Robert J. Chandler, previously the senior research historian for Wells Fargo Bank, has done extensive research on the life and times of Brown. Though other scholars have written about Brown, Chandler’s work is the first comprehensive biography, which seamlessly references appropriate field literature to piece together Brown’s life from his birth in Pennsylvania to his death in Minnesota

Read the entire review here.

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Finding Grafton Tyler Brown, African American Artist

Posted in Articles, Biography, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2015-03-12 20:31Z by Steven

Finding Grafton Tyler Brown, African American Artist

Keith Skinner: Writer: Renegade Image: Fiction, memoir, travel & essays
2014-05-25

Keith Skinner

I had never heard of Grafton Tyler Brown before. I was just trying to develop a character for my historical novel-in-progress, The Relentless Harvest.

The Search for a Character

It all started with a desire to raise the level of conversation in the lumber camp scenes set in 19th century Albion, California. Much of the dialogue I had written for those scenes featured hardened men with little or no education, men who generally were aware of little else than life in camp. I considered tossing a writer into their midst but quickly discounted the idea. I needed someone who would interact with and leave an impression on the men, someone who would ignite their imaginations. A writer would only isolate himself and would be unable to share his work with the largely illiterate loggers. Then I remembered all the vintage lithographs and drawings I had examined for my San Francisco scenes. What if an artist came to the woods to chronicle the emerging lumber industry?…

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San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown

Posted in Arts, Biography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Passing, United States on 2014-02-12 08:00Z by Steven

San Francisco Lithographer: African American Artist Grafton Tyler Brown

University of Oklahoma Press
2014
264 pages
8.5″ x 11″
Illustrations: 20 b&w and 125 color illus.
Hardcover ISBN: 9780806144108

Robert J. Chandler, Retired Senior Research Historian
Wells Fargo Bank

A lavishly illustrated biography of an often overlooked artist and his work

Grafton Tyler Brown—whose heritage was likely one-eighth African American—finessed his way through San Francisco society by passing for white. Working in an environment hostile to African American achievement, Brown became a successful commercial artist and businessman in the rough-and-tumble gold rush era and the years after the Civil War. Best known for his bird’s-eye cityscapes, he also produced and published maps, charts, and business documents, and he illustrated books, sheet music, advertisements, and labels for cans and other packaging.

This biography by a distinguished California historian gives an underappreciated artist and his work recognition long overdue. Focusing on Grafton Tyler Brown’s lithography and his life in nineteenth-century San Francisco, Robert J. Chandler offers a study equally fascinating as a business and cultural history and as an introduction to Brown the artist.

Chandler’s contextualization of Brown’s career goes beyond the issue of race. Showing how Brown survived and flourished as a businessman, Chandler offers unique insight into the growth of printing and publishing in California and the West. He examines the rise of lithography, its commercial and cultural importance, and the competition among lithographic companies. He also analyzes Brown’s work and style, comparing it to the products of rival firms.

Brown was not respected as a fine artist until after his death. Collectors of western art and Americana now recognize the importance of Californiana and of Brown’s work, some of which depicts Portland and the Pacific Northwest, and they will find Chandler’s checklist, descriptions, and reproductions of Brown’s ephemera—including billheads and maps—as uniquely valuable as Chandler’s contribution to the cultural and commercial history of California. In an afterword, historian Shirley Ann Wilson Moore discusses the circumstances and significance of passing in nineteenth-century America.

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