James Bowman (1793-1842)
The first know painter in Erie, Pennsylvania, James Bowman was born in Allegheny County in 1793 and grew up in Mercer, Pennsylvania. Initially he worked as a carpenter in Chillicothe, Ohio and likely his initial instruction in painting came from J.T. Turner (a portrait, sign and ornamental painter) around 1815. At the age of 24 he settled in Erie and set up a studio in the Duncan Hotel where he specialized in portraits. He apparently also lived in Pittsburgh for a number of years before leaving for Europe in 1822 for further study.
In London he was a pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence, president of the Royal Academy of London, who regarded him as an artist of rare promise. He also lived in France for a time where he painted the Marquis de Lafayette and his family.
Returning to Pittsburgh in 1829 after seven years abroad, Bowman opened a short-lived gallery in Pittsburgh. There a Pittsburgh Gazette writer described him as “one of the most eminent artists of the age.” By 1831 he had traveled to Quebec, Canada, spending several years there in portrait painting before moving on to Montreal and then Toronto.
In Detroit in 1836 at the age of 43 he married Julia M. Chew. He continued his portrait work, traveling to Wisconsin, Western Pennsylvania and New York State. In 1841 the artist opened a studio in Rochester, New York. His sudden death occurred on May 18, 1842 at the age of 49.
Biographical information excerpted from the unpublished manuscript: “Erie Artists – A History of Heroes,” by Dr. Kirk Steehler, Erie Art Museum.
Compiled and submitted by Edward Bentley, researcher of Lansing, Michigan.