These serene portraits strike us immediately for the sitters’ large eyes and direct gazes, as well as for the artist’s precise brushwork, as showcased by Martha Colley’s ruffle-trimmed bonnet. Although not signed, these likenesses bear the hallmarks of itinerant artist John Brewster Jr., who was born deaf in Hampton, Connecticut, and received informal instruction from local portraitist Joseph Steward (Dartmouth Class of 1780). In 1796, Bewster moved to Buxton, Maine, which would became his base for travel throughout New England and eastern New York State in search of portrait commissions. To date, more than one hundred portraits have been ascribed to Brewster, whose ability to support himself through painting is all the more remarkable in light of his deafness. The sharp, penetrating stares of his sitters may reflect the special value Brewster played on eyes in his attempts to understand others, and to be understood himself.
From the 2019 exhibition American Art, Colonial to Modern, curated by Barbara J. MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art
| John Brewster Jr., an itinerant portrait artist, depicts New Hampshire resident John Colley in this work. Colley’s eyes engage the viewer, standing out from the browns and blacks that make up the majority of the image. Brewster was born deaf and, in the 1820s, he became one of the first people to be educated at the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, now known as the American School for the Deaf. Unlike other students, Brewster had already begun supporting himself as an artist.
The emphasis on the subject’s eyes is typical of Brewster’s work. How did Brewster’s experience as an artist intersect with his experience as a Deaf man?
From the 2021 exhibition A Space for Dialogue 103, Images of Disability, curated by Maeve McBride '20, Conroy Intern
A Space for Dialogue, Images of Disability, Maeve McBride, Dartmouth Class of 2020, Conroy Intern, Alvin P. Gutman Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, October 9–December 23, 2021.
American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Museum of Art, William B. Jaffe and Evelyn A. Jaffe Hall Galleries, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, June 9-December 9, 2007.
American Art, Colonial to Modern, Israel Sack Gallery and Rush Family Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, November 1, 2019-September 12, 2021.
American Folk Art at the Hood Museum of Art (a thematic partial permanent gallery installation); Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, July 16, 2015.
By Good Hands: New Hampshire Folk Art, The Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, Neww Hampshire, June 23-September 3, 1989; University Galleries, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, October 23-December 10, 1989; Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, March 10-May 20, 1990.
Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, June 26, 1991-March 10, 1996.
Israel Sack Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, October 20, 1998-August 28, 2000.
Robert B. Doty, By Good Hands: New Hampshire Folk Art, Hanover and London: The Currier Gallery of Art and the University Art Galleries, University of New Hampshire, 1989, p. 10, no. 7.
Barbara J. MacAdam, American Art at Dartmouth: Highlights from the Hood Muesum of Art, Hanover: Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2007, p. 28, no. 8.
Collection of Paul Lochart Hutchinson (1898-1971), Class of 1920 and Lydia G. Hutchinson (1907-1985), North Palm Beach, Florida; to Lydia G. Hutchinson, 1971; gift of her estate to present collection, 1985.
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