I

Narratives of African American Art and Identity

Grafton Tyler Brown

Mt. Hood from John Day's Station, 1884-1885

Oil on canvas

15.5" x 25.5"


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Mt. Hood from John Day's Station

Born of free parentage in Pennsylvania, Grafton Tyler Brown followed the lure of the West to California in the mid-1850s, participating in the expansion that would change the face of the nation. He was able to find work as a lithographer in San Francisco and eventually formed his own business in 1866. Brown is considered the first African American professional artist in California. His early work consisted of illustrating and documenting the emerging settlements, gold-rush towns, and ranches that were springing up in the territories surrounding San Francisco. His work, and that of others in his field who created appealing images of the West, served as part of the commercialization of the developing nation. Although his business as a commercial draftsman was successful, Brown sold it in 1879 and in 1882 left the Bay Area for Canada, where many African Americans found a more racially tolerant environment. Brown turned to paint as his primary medium and began to focus on the beauty of the Canadian landscape. With no formal training, his experience as a draftsman was the foundation he needed to establish himself as an artist.

By 1885 Grafton Tyler Brown had moved on to the Pacific Northwest, where he was inspired by the mountainous landscapes. Mt. Hood from John Day's Station of 1884-1885 is a dramatic view of Washington state's Mount Hood. Brown's soft palette imbues this sun-drenched vista with awe-inspiring majesty, a quality that characterized his grand landscapes. Brown frequently included railroad tracks and ferry boats in his landscapes, which serve as subtle but poignant reminders of the encroachment of civilization.  A. L. C.

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