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Grafton Brown

 (1841 - 1918)
Grafton Tyler Brown was active/lived in California, British Columbia, Minnesota / Canada.  Grafton Brown is known for topographic townscape, illustration, lithography.

Grafton Brown

Biography from the Archives of askART

Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Grafton Tyler Brown was an illustrator, landscape and frontier subject painter, and lithographer, who became California's first black sketch artist.  He worked first for the lithography firm of Kuchel and Dresel Company, whose specialty was views of California mining towns and mining genre.

His family were freed slaves who moved from Maryland in 1837 and arrived in San Francisco from Pennsylvania in the early 1860s.  He traveled extensively in that state as well as surrounding areas, painting and drawing the landscape including birds-eye town views, a painting in 1886 of the Grand Canyon, and the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River in 1891.

In 1861, he joined a lithography business, Kuchel and Dressel, and became a part of the management of that firm.  The company was known for color views of cities, and he did most of the illustrations for The Illustrated History of San Mateo County.  In 1879, he dropped his involvement with this lithography firm and devoted himself to landscape painting, traveling as an itinerant throughout the Northwest.

In 1882, he was part of a geological survey team to British Columbia, and from 1886 to 1890, was settled in Portland, from where he visited Yellowstone in the summer of 1885.  He spent the last twenty-five years of his life working as a civil engineer for the United States Army Corps in St. Paul, Minnesota where he died in 1918.  However, he continued to list himself in city directories as an artist.

Paintings by this artist are in the collection of the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma.

Edan Hughes, Artists in California, 1786-1940
Harold and Peggy Samuels, Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West
Peter Hassrick, Drawn to Yellowstone
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Douglas Frazer Fine Art, Ltd.
A prolific and talented topographic artist, lithographer, and landscape painter, Grafton Tyler Brown traveled the West in the late 19th century, and his resulting art depicts the natural beauty and essential character of the developing frontier.

Brown was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 1841, and left the East and moved to San Francisco in 1855, where he became California's first Black artist.  He spent his time producing maps, illustrations and lithographs of towns so accurate they were often used as office documents.  In addition to drawing views of Virginia City, Nevada, Ft. Churchill, and Santa Rosa, California, he published an Illustrated History of San Mateo County.

From 1861 to 1867,  he worked as a lithographer for Kuchel and Dresel in San Francisco, establishing his own business, G.T. Brown & Company, upon his employer's death in 1867.  Large mining companies were among his clients, as were local businessmen who advertised their firms on the borders of his bird's eye views of cities.

In the early 1870s Brown moved to Victoria, B.C. to work on a geographical survey for the Canadian government with Amos Boman.  The move north to Canada from San Francisco is concurrent with Brown's move from commercial lithographer to landscape painter.

Brown's first exhibition in Victoria in 1883 included 22 local landscapes.  His experience drawing plein air helped prepare Brown to paint the Smith and Thompson rivers, Lake Okanagan, and Mt. Baker.  In subsequent years Brown traveled throughout the West painting landscapes.

He went to Washington, where he painted several views of Mt. Rainier; to Oregon, where he lived and worked in Portland from 1886-1889, to Wyoming, where he painted Yellowstone's Lower Falls in 1891; and back to California where he painted scenes of Yosemite National Park.

Though it appeared that Brown had adopted the West as his home, he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1892 where he began work as a draftsman and civil engineer. This was to last for the remaining 25 years of his life, and no works of art from these years have been found.

Brown died in St. Peter, Minnesota in 1918.

Sources include:
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art; William Gerdts: Art Across America, vol. 3; Riggs, Ed.: St. James Guide to Black Artists; Samuels & Samuels: Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West

By Sarah Nelson
Douglas Frazer Fine Art, Ltd.

Biography from Braarud Fine Art
The first recognized African- American artist in the American West, Grafton Tyler Brown was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. His family moved west from Maryland in 1837, and Grafton was employed as a lithographer at San Francisco's Kuchel and Dresel Company by 1870. At that firm, the young artist specialized in drawing "birds-eye" city views of communities in California and Nevada.

Within a few years, Brown was advertising as a traveling artist in Nevada, but in 1867 in San Francisco, he purchased the lithography firm for which he had worked, renaming it G.T. Brown & Company.

In 1872, Brown sold the business to devote himself full time to travel and oil painting. He later moved to British Columbia, joining the Amos Bowman-led geological survey of the east side of the Cascade Mountains and settling in Victoria. From 1886-1889, he maintained a home and studio in Portland, Oregon, after which he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota.

Brown painted panoramic landscape scenes, not only in Oregon, Washington, California, and British Columbia, but in the Yellowstone region and the Grand Canyon as well. His work is in the collections of the Evansville, Indiana Museum, the Washington State Capitol Museum, and the Oakland Museum, among others.

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About  Grafton Brown

Born:  1841 - Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Died:   1918 - St. Peter, Minnesota
Known for:  topographic townscape, illustration, lithography

Essays referring to
Grafton Brown

Black American Artists
Painters of Grand Canyon