New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

Edward Mitchell Bannister, a Prominent Artist From Saint Andrews

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Edward Mitchell Bannister, a Prominent Artist From Saint Andrews

Edward Mitchell Bannister’s father was of African descent and was born in Barbados. He subsequently relocated to Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, and married Hannah Alexander who is said to have had Scottish roots. Hannah’s racial background has not been determined.

Edward was born in Saint Andrews in November of 1828. Very little is known of his early life, except that he was raised by his mother alone, his father having died when Edward was only three or four years old (1832). Edward learned to sketch as a child, and later credited his mother with supporting his interest in the arts. His mother died in 1844 when Edward was 15 or 16, and he then lived with an unidentified white family. This arrangement was only temporary, however, since he is known to have moved to Boston by 1848 or 50. In the meantime, between the death of his mother and his move to Boston, he had worked as an actor and as a cook aboard ship. They say that the work at sea paid reasonably well and also served to bring him into contact with the American east coast. This could explain his move to Boston.

In Boston, Edward worked at several jobs, including as a barber in one of the hairdressing shops of Christiana Carteaux. This was arranged through an organization which supported the employment of black Americans. Christiana was a successful wig-maker and hairdresser, of Native American descent, who had several shops that allowed her some independence. They were married on June 10, 1857, and both continued their active support of the abolition cause. She is known to have campaigned for equal pay for black soldiers and other causes during the Civil War, for example.

Edward and Christiana moved to Providence, in her home state of Rhode Island in 1869 or 71, where both of their careers prospered. They never had a family.

Edward was painting in Boston, and continued this in Providence. Early during his time in Providence he attended lectures by a sculptor on depicting the human figure, and some of his other jobs were also of an artistic nature — hand-coloring photographic prints, for example. By 1863 he was included in a book about blacks, which noted that his accomplishments were “despite the many obstacles thrown in his way by his color.” Race certainly was an obstacle, as evidenced in the New York Herald in 1867 when it was written that “the Negro seems to have an appreciation for art while being manifestly unable to produce it.”

It is said that the slur in the New York Herald gave Edward a determination to show that they were wrong, and nine years after that, in 1876, his large painting Under the Oaks was awarded first prize in the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. The awards committee was unaware that he was black, and they were appalled when he appeared to accept and considered withdrawing the honor. His fellow contestants supported him, however, and he kept the prize.

Bannister is termed a ‘Tonalist’, which was a term used to describe a style of landscape painting which emerged in the 1880’s. He was also part of a movement at that time to paint American scenes instead of European ones. He became well known during his lifetime, but was nearly forgotten in later years and many of his earlier paintings are now missing. People began to take greater interest in his work in the 1970’s, however, and he is now recognized not only for his skill but also for his success as an African American. Several posthumous honors have been bestowed.

His earlier paintings, in particular, employed a heavy impasto. Landscapes were a favourite subject, but he also painted nautical scenes and portraits.

Edward Bannister died on January 9, 1901 of a heart attack. The house which Edward and Christiana rented in Providence belongs to Brown University, who recently renovated it and installed a memorial plaque.


The Bannister House, Before and After Renovation, 2016

Examples of Edward Bannister’s Work

The Newsboy, 1869, from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

River Scene, 1883, from Wikimedia

Sabin Point, Narragansett Bay, 1885, from Wikimedia

Palmer River, 1885, from Wikimedia

The Farm Landing, 1892, from Wikimedia

Written by johnwood1946

June 27, 2018 at 8:10 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

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