John Brewster, Jr. at the Saco Museum

One 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.

Also defining 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.

Click here for an online exhibition of paintings by John Brewster, Jr. at the Saco Museum.