BREWSTER, JOHN, JR.
had a long and successful portrait-painting career despite being deaf from birth. Brewster was born in Hampton, Connecticut, to Dr. John and Mary Durkee Brewster,who encouraged him at a young age to cope with his disability through learning to read and write. He displayed a talent for painting, which was fostered by studyingwith an established portrait painter, the Reverend Joseph Steward. Brewster began painting likenesses of family members and friends in the 1790s, and by 1796 hadmoved to Buxton, Maine, to live with his brother Royal Brewster between periods of itinerancy. He traveled widely in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and eastern New York State in search of portrait commissions. In 1817, Brewster enrolled in the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons in Hartford, where helearned new methods of non-verbal communication. He returned to Maine in 1820 and resumed his career as a portraitist.Brewster’s more than one hundred extant portraits show his ability to produce delicate and sensitive likenesses, full-size or miniature, in oil on canvas or ivory. His practice of priming his canvases with gray paint gives his portraits a particularly soft, serene appearance. As his career progressed, Brewster painted his sitters’ facialfeatures using more threedimensional modeling, and moved from full-length to half-length or bust-length portrait formats. After 1805 he often signed and dated hisworks in pencil on the stretcher. Brewster died in Buxton, Maine, in 1854, having lived a long, successful, and independent professional life.
Miniatures; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;
Painting, American Folk.
D’Ambrosio, Paul S., and Charlotte Emans,
Folk Art’s Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association.
Cooperstown, N.Y., 1987.Little, Nina Fletcher. “John Brewster, Jr., 1766–1854: Deaf-Mute Portrait Painter of Connecticut and Maine.”
Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin,
no. 25 (October 1960): 97–129.Rumford, Beatrix T., ed.
American Folk Portraits: Paintings and Drawings from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center.