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

April 1 through December 31, 2005


Fenimore Art Museum is hosting the first comprehensive exhibition on the important American painter John Brewster, Jr. (1766-1854). Entitled A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster, Jr. The exhibit features 50 outstanding paintings illustrating the full range of Brewster's long and successful career. It is the first time Brewster's masterpieces have been presented together in more than 40 years. The exhibit will close December 31, 2005.

"The exhibition presents a fascinating glimpse of early America through the eyes of someone who lived in a world of silence. Like all great artists, John Brewster, Jr. transcended his personal challenges to leave an astonishing legacy," said Paul D'Ambrosio, Chief Curator, Fenimore Art Museum.

Brewster was not an artist who incidentally was Deaf but rather a Deaf artist, one in a long tradition that owes many of its features and achievements to the fact that Deaf people are, as scholars have noted, visual people. The exhibition and companion book provide a major assessment of Brewster's life and art within his four worlds: his artistic influences, his distinctive painting style and techniques, his elite clientele, and the world of the Deaf in early America.

One of the best early American portrait painters who painted in a characteristically American style, John Brewster, Jr. was an artist who gave us hauntingly beautiful images of American life during the formative period of the nation. His techniques were rooted in European academic art but he moved beyond that rigidity to achieve a directness and intensity of vision that has rarely been equaled. His portraits have been hailed as "masterpieces of American painting" and Brewster himself is labeled "an undisputed master of the genre." Art historians have called his portrait of Sarah Prince, for example, "One of the masterpieces of American painting" and "a landmark in American painting."

Born in Hampton, Connecticut, Brewster studied briefly with Reverend Joseph Steward (1753-1822) and began painting likenesses in the 1790s. He traveled widely in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and eastern New York State in search of portrait commissions. Brewster's portraits show his ability to produce delicate and sensitive likenesses in full-size or miniature, and in oil on canvas or ivory. He is particularly noted for his portraits of children, who are depicted with an angelic innocence rarely achieved in portrait painting. In 1854 Brewster died at age eighty-eight, leaving an invaluable record of his era and a priceless artistic legacy.

A companion book of the same title, written by Dr. Harlan Lane of Northeastern University, provides the first major look at Brewster's life and art within the contexts of his artistic influences, the styles and techniques of his extraordinary portraits, the Federalist elite who patronized him, and the world of the Deaf in early America.

Other venues for A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster, Jr. are The Mennello Museum of American Folk Art in Orlando, FL; The Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT; American Folk Art Museum in New York City; and The Portland Museum of Art in Portland, ME.

A Deaf Artist in Early America: The Worlds of John Brewster, Jr. was organized by the Fenimore Art Museum and is funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the American Folk Art Society, Robert and Katharine Booth, and Jon and Rebecca Zoler.


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