John Brewster, Jr. at the Saco Museum
of the Saco River Valley’s most important artists, John Brewster, Jr.
was actually born in Hampton, Connecticut in 1766. Like many portrait
painters in early America, Brewster had little formal training as a
painter. Instead he learned the trade through apprenticeships with local
masters, and he perfected his skills through plain hard work, traveling
to different New England towns, including Saco, and painting portraits
of important citizens.
Setting Brewster apart from the many other traveling portrait
painters at this time is the fact that he was born Deaf. At a time
when there were no educational opportunities for the hearing impaired,
Brewster grew up unable to speak, read, or write. With the help of his
family, including a brother in Buxton, Maine who was a well-respected
physician, Brewster probably communicated with his clients mostly
through gestures. His successful career is even more remarkable for this
reason, especially since his trade depended upon his ability to travel
by stagecoach all over New England, to arrange to board with the
families whose portraits he painted, to negotiate fees for his services,
and to communicate with the sitters for his portraits.
Brewster’s career is the truly exceptional quality of the portraits he
painted. The details of the faces and clothing, the stillness and
elegance of his portraits, set them apart from much of what was done by
his contemporaries. It is clear that the Cutts family of Saco
agreed, for after he painted impressive full-length portraits of Colonel
and Mrs. Thomas Cutts in 1795, he went on to paint many other members of
the family over a period of nearly thirty years.
The Saco Museum’s fine art collection began with John Brewster, Jr.
in 1867, one year after the museum’s founding, when librarian George
Emery donated the portraits of Colonel and Mrs. Cutts. There are now
thirteen portraits by John Brewster, Jr. in the Saco Museum, making it
the largest and finest collection of Brewster’s paintings anywhere.