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 David Hunter Strother  (1816 - 1888)

About: David Hunter Strother
 

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Lived/Active: West Virginia      Known for: illustrator, genre, landscape

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Noted as one of the America's foremost draughtsmen and writer of Southern regionalism, David Strother was likely the best-known graphic artist in the United States at the time of the Civil War.

He was born in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and grew up in a family whose ancestors had settled in King George County in the mid 17th century. They were primarily farmers, and many of them served in the Revolutionary War. Physically frail, he was protected from rough play by his parents and encouraged in aesthetic pursuits including art lessons from his father. He had his first formal training from Italian drawing masters active in Philadelphia, Pietro Ancora and Gennario Persico.

In 1829, he had measles, which reportedly transformed him from a quiet, passive personality to someone more reckless and aggressive. His parents sent him to Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, to channel his energy, but he quit before the year ended. He spent several years in Martinsburg, primarily in idleness and wild socializing. In 1836, he set on a career of the only thing he found challenging--art, and he was encouraged by his teacher and successful artist, John Gadsby Chapman, who gave him lessons stressing the importance of good draughtsmanship.

In 1837, at Chapman's suggestion, he enrolled at New York University with S.F.B. Morse, and did such spirited sketches that he got much recognition and encouragement. He devoted some time to being a portrait painter and spent 14 months traveling the Ohio River valley for subjects. He returned to Martinsburg because his father had suggested a European tour, and in November, 1840, sailed for Europe and stayed until 1843. He attended classes in Paris at an unnamed academy and was not particularly impressed until he got to Italy where he spent much time.

When he returned to the United States, through the influence of John Chapman he became employed as a graphic artist. He learned to copy his sketches directly onto boxwood blocks, which led to accuracy that was often missing in 19th century engraving. His career began sporadically because of ill health and his partying habits, but in the fall of 1850, he accepted an offer for 20 book illustrations for a popular book, "Swallow Barn."

Shortly after that he began an affiliation with Fletcher Harper of "Harper's Monthly" that lasted nearly 25 years. After entertaining Washington Irving in Martinsburg and hearing his stories, he created the pseudonym "Porte Crayon" for himself and set about sketching and telling stories of the Shenandoah Valley in a way reminiscent of what Irving had done for the Hudson River Valley. Readers of "Harper's Monthly" were most receptive, and one of his biggest stories was the John Brown's insurrection at Harper's Ferry.

Strother later served in the Civil War with the Union Army and violently opposed to secession, played a key map-making role in guiding Union forces through the South. At the end of the war, he was appointed Virginia's first post-war Adjutant General and made a valiant attempt to reconstruct Virginia. For "Harper's," he did eleven installments of "Personal Recollections of the War," which were illustrations and writings.

His last years were spent fighting personal indebtedness, countering antagonism over his war activities, doing some illustrations, and being involved in Mexican-American diplomacy.

In 1888, he died of pneumonia in Charles Town, West Virginia. He had completed nearly 200 paintings, was a highly regarded writer of over 50 articles, and an illustrator who wrote about and depicted regional oral traditions, anecdotes that allowed Northerners to know more about Southern culture.

Biography from Charleston Renaissance Gallery:
David Hunter Strother (1816-1888)

Author, artist, soldier, and diplomat David Hunter Strother rose to national fame as a correspondent for Harper's Magazine, writing and illustrating humorous anecdotes about Southern life in the Shenandoah Valley under the pseudonym "Porte Crayon."  Undergirded by solid academic training, Strother was widely regarded as the leading graphic artist of the Civil War era.

Born in Martinsburg, Virginia, Strother, a sickly youth, was encouraged in his early artistic interest by his concerned parents.  His first formal instruction came from the Italian drawing master, Pietro Ancora, in Philadelphia in 1829; he later attended Jefferson College.  In 1836, Strother came under the tutelage of John Gadsby Chapman, who schooled the young man in the principles of draughtsmanship.  A year later, at Chapman’s urging. Strother enrolled at New York University, where he studied with Samuel F. B. Morse.  The enthusiastic response his work garnered subsequently led to European travel and further study in Italy.

It was Chapman who persuaded Strother to pursue employment as a graphic artist.  His first major commission was for a set of twenty illustrations for the popular book Swallow Barn by John P. Kennedy.  Soon thereafter, Strother, inspired by the example of Washington Irving, launched an association with Fletcher Harper of Harper’s Magazine.  Using the pen name “Porte Crayon,” Strother penned amusing vignettes, usually centered on Southern mores and culture, and always accompanied by his own woodcut drawings.  Over the course of his career, he contributed over fifty articles to the magazine.  Many of these writings were subsequently released in book form under the titles The Blackwater Chronicle and Virginia Illustrated.  In addition to his commercial work, Strother produced finished studio canvases as well, as evidenced by this example.

An anti-secessionist, Strother served the Union army as a topographer, participated in some thirty battles, and was ultimately promoted to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers.  He submitted eleven installments recounting these experiences to Harper’s which were published as “Personal Recollections of the War.” In 1879, Strother was appointed the diplomatic consul to Mexico by President Rutherford B. Hayes.

For more information on this artist and work, please contact us.

This essay is copyrighted by the Charleston Renaissance Gallery and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission from Hicklin Galleries, LLC.

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David Strother is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Civil War Art

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