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 Charles Cushing Wright  (1796 - 1854)

About: Charles Cushing Wright


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Lived/Active: New York/South Carolina/Maine      Known for: engraving, medallion portraits

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A founder of the National Academy of Design* and recognized as the first American medalist*, Charles Cushing Wright was also distinguished for being "both the designer and die cutter of his medals" (Dearinger, 303).  According to, he was "probably the finest die engraver the country has produced." He engraved the three medals struck at the United States mint by the American Art Union honoring prominent artists.

He is responsible for medals depicting a number of eminent American political and military figures and important historic events, the most noteworthy of which is his portrait of George Washington, after the French sculptor and portraitist Jean Antoine Houdon (1741-1828). The reverse of this medal illustrates the Signing of the Declaration of Independence. He also did medallion* portraits of Winfield Scott, Zachary Taylor, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster.

He lived most of his career in New York state except for the years 1819 to 1823 when he was in Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, Sorth Carolina. In 1812, he became a regimental clerk, and then apprenticed himself to John Osburn, a Utica jeweler and watchmaker. The materials he worked with on that job led to his experimenting with copper plates.

In Savannah he lost all of his belongings in the 1820 fire, so he moved on to Charleston. There he married Lavinia Dorothy Simons, also an artist. He worked as a diesinker* and engraver and did his first medallion portrait, which was of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney.

In 1824, he returned to New York City, where he was associated with several engraving firms: Durand and Wright, Bale & Wright, and Wright and Prentiss, but his primary occupation was diesinking. However, he also had a sideline of creating steel pens, becoming one of the first to put those on the market.

Charles Wright was politically active in the rebellion that took place among artists against the conservative American Art Union* and the formation of the New York Drawing Association, which transitioned into the National Academy of Design* of which  Wright was one of the "First Fifteen Founders".  At the Academy School, he lectured on medals and die-sinking during the 1830--1831 sessions.  However, his participation in Academy exhibitions was limited, and he was demoted to Associate for inconsistency with that activity.

He had a son, Charles Washington Wright, who also became an engraver. A biography of Charles Cushing Wright and his wife by their great grandson, Charles Lennox Wright II, is at the New York Historical Society.

David Dearinger, Editor, Paintings and Sculpture in the Collection of the National Academy of Design, 1826-1925
Holly Carter Clark, descendant of the artist, in material submitted January 2005
Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

* For references for these terms and others, see AskART Glossary

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

Charles Wright is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915

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