BROOKS, THOMAS V.
a leading carver of ships and shop figures, operated studios in New York City and Chicago. Known as the “father” or the “old daddy” of the carving business, Brookswas born in New York City, where he was apprenticed to John L.Crowell (1805–1873). He opened his own shop on South Street in 1848, enjoyed a brief partnership with fellow carver Thomas Millard (1803–1870), and later moved to Chicago, about 1880 to 1881, while still operating his New York City studio. In1889 his son James Brooks (1869–1937) joined him in Chicago as a partner, and took over the New York studio in 1890. When Thomas Brooks died the two shopswere sold, but son James continued to operate from his Brooklyn home, under the name of Standard Show Figure Company, until 1905. Thomas Brooks’ employeeIsaac Lewin (dates unknown), who changed his name to Lewis, purchased the Chicago shop.Art historian Ralph Sessions, after examining
Products of Industry Schedules of the Federal Census,
determined that in 1850 the Brooks shop of four employees,with its carved figures valued at $4,500, adjoined other leading carving studios on South Street in New York City. By 1860 the business had moved to 117 CanalStreet, which one contemporary referred to as “down in West Broadway somewhere,” and had an inventory of one hundred figures valued at $4,000, and a staff of six. Renowned carver Samuel Anderson Robb (1851–1928) is thought to have apprenticed with Brooks about 1864. At that time Brooks identified himself as a“carver and gilder,” and had a second shop at 256 South Street. Ralph Sessions concluded that “many elements of the New York show-figure style were established inBrooks’ shop in the 1850s and 1860s.”Later schedules and directories reflect a subsequent partnership with Thomas J.White (1825–1902), as “Brooks & White—Carvers,” producing “Figure Heads”and “Cigar Figures.” An 1872 New York City directory advertisement listed Brooks as a “Show Figure and Ornamental Carver” with “from 75 to 100 figures alwayson hand.” Frederick Fried, an authority on shop figures, gave the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution a photograph of a cigar storeIndian that he attributed to Brooks, but there appear to be no extant carvings that can be attributed to the woodworker.
Frederick Fried; Maritime Folk Art; Samuel Anderson Robb; Ships’ Figureheads; Shop Figures.
Artists in Wood: American Carvers of Cigar-Store Indians, Show Figures, and Circus Wagons.
New York, 1970.