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Grafton Tyler Brown
*On this date in 1841, Grafton Tyler Brown was born. He was a Black lithographer and painter.
Born of free ancestry in Pennsylvania, Brown followed the lure of the West to California in the mid-1850s, taking part in the expansion that would change the face of the nation. He was able to find work as a lithographer in San Francisco and in time formed his own business in 1866. Brown is considered the first Black professional artist in California.
His early creations consisted of illustrating and documenting the settlements, gold-rush towns, and ranches that were springing up in the territories surrounding San Francisco. This 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 Blacks 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. By 1885 the Pacific Northwest and its mountainous landscapes inspired him to paint his most noteworthy pieces.
Brown's soft palette fills his nature-drenched vistas with awe-inspiring majesty. This was a quality that characterized his grand landscapes. Brown frequently included railroad tracks and ferryboats in his landscapes, which serve as subtle but poignant reminders of the encroachment of civilization. Grafton Brown died in 1918.
The St. James Guide to Black Artist
Edited by Thomas Riggs
Copyright 1997, St. James Press, Detroit, MI