Frederick W. Mayhew

 

Mayhew worked primarily as a portrait artist on his native island of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Cape Cod, and in New Bedford, Massachusetts, during the earlynineteenth century. Born in Chilmark, Massachusetts on July 6, 1785, the artist was the son of Abner Mayhew, a farmer. In 1811, he married Zelinda Tilton and thecouple had one child. Two years earlier, at the age of twenty-four, Mayhew turned to making portraits as a means of supporting himself and later his family. At thistime, he advertised in New Bedford newspapers that he painted profile likenesses, however, none have been located.Over the next twenty-five years until 1834, Mayhew traveled the region executing principally profiles, oil portraits, and watercolor-on-paper miniatures whileintermittently returning to Chilmark, his home base. The rapid expansion of the whaling industry in the region fueled the artist’s ability to secure commissions for likenesses from the area’s swelling middle class. Of the twenty-five portraits signed by Mayhew or attributed to his hand, the majority depict sea captains, their wivesand families. Frequently, the artist portrayed male subjects with attributes of their seafaring trade, such as in the portrait of Captain Richard Luce of Tisbury. Thiscomposition includes a spyglass and a small boat in the distance, resting mysteriously on a bed of waves. Women are shown in complementary compositions, dressedin beautiful clothing ornamented with elaborate lace collars, as in the double portrait depicting Mrs. Sylvia Howland Almy and her daughter Sarah. They wear hats, hair combs, and jewelry such as necklaces and rings, and frequently hold infants in their arms.Mayhew’s security as a portraitist was affected, in part, by economic fluctuations in the local whaling industry, and by increased competition from other artistsincluding William Swain (1803–1847), a native of Newburyport, William Allen Wall (1801–1885) of New Bedford, and Edward D.Marchant (1806–1887), who was born in nearby Edgartown, Massachusetts. As a result, Mayhew supplemented his income as a resident artist on Martha’s Vineyard through fishing and farming. In1834, he and his family moved to Olive Township in Ohio to be near his wife Zelinda’s relatives who previously had migrated west from the island. Although evidencesuggests Mayhew may have made some landscape paintings in this new location, he appears to have worked principally as a farmer as confirmed by federal censusrecords for 1850. The artist died in Cambridge, Ohio, at the age of almost sixty-nine.