Grafton Tyler Brown: Exploring California

Grafton Tyler Brown (1841-1918) was a painter, graphic designer, and lithographer in the 19th century. A talented artist and entrepreneur, Brown was the only documented African American in his field in the western United States at the time.

Exact details on how Brown first encountered lithography are unknown. However, it’s possible that he discovered lithography as a teenager by working in Peter S. Duval’s print shop in Philadelphia. Duval employed lithographer, Charles Conrad Kuchel who moved to California in 1853. In 1865, Brown founded his first lithography business in San Francisco, where he served the emerging business communities in the area, designing stock certificates for a wide variety of companies ranging from ice to mining corporations, as well as admission tickets, maps, sheet music, advertisements, and billheads.

Later in life, Brown began to make his living as a painter, selling original oil landscape paintings as he traveled further north. While his depictions of the West were well received, the vast majority of Brown’s artistic output is in the medium of lithography. These commercial works were instrumental in creating images of new cities, businesses, and land prospects in the West. His artistic skill and creative efforts can be credited with successfully promoting Western expansion and development. This is an important story rarely told and not widely known.

Grafton Tyler Brown: Exploring California will include approximately 45 paintings, prints, and objects from Brown’s oeuvre, including a breadth of imagery detailing the early development of California and the West.

This exhibition’s education and engagement initiative is supported, in part, by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

Grafton Tyler Brown: Exploring California is organized by the Pasadena Museum of California Art and curated by Bridget R. Cooks Ph.D.. The exhibition is supported by the PMCA Board of Directors, PMCA Ambassador Circle, and the California Visionary Fund. 

About the Curator:

Bridget R. Cooks is Associate Professor of Art History and African American Studies at the University of California, Irvine. She also serves as core faculty in the Ph.D. Programs in Visual Studies and Culture and Theory, and the Master’s Program in Critical and Curatorial Studies. Cooks’ research focuses on African American artists, Black visual culture, museum criticism, feminist theory, and post-colonial theory.

She earned her doctorate in the Visual and Cultural Studies Program at the University of Rochester working with Douglas Crimp as her advisor. She has received a number of awards, grants, and fellowships for her work including the prestigious James A. Porter & David C. Driskell Book Award in African American Art History, and the Henry Luce Dissertation Fellowship in American Art.

Cooks’ first career was as a museum professional. In this capacity, she worked at the Oakland Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She has also curated several exhibitions including “The Art of Richard Mayhew” at the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco and “Wavelengths: Abstract Selections from the Paul R. Jones Collection” at The Univeristy of Alabama. She is author of the book Exhibiting Blackness: African Americans and the American Art Museum (University of Massachusetts Press, 2011). Some of her other publications can be found in Afterimage, American Studies, Pedagogy and American Quarterly. She is currently working on her second manuscript titled, A Dream Deferred: Art of the Civil Rights Movement and the Limits of Liberalism.