History Curatorial Postcard 02-02-2022

Grafton Tyler (G.T.) Brown (1841-1918) was 17 years old when he moved out west from the free state of Pennsylvania. He was the first born son of Wilhelmina and Thomas, two free Blacks who had left the slave state of Maryland in 1837. Like many pioneers during this time, G.T. Brown was in search of something different – a better life from what his parents and grandparents had experienced. He landed first in Sacramento where he worked as a steward and porter for two years at the Saint George Hotel. A new opportunity arose for him on November 15, 1859, when he was praised in the Sacramento Union newspaper for his drawing of the British steam ship, Great Eastern (the largest ship in the world). “We noticed last evening some very excellent painting done by Grafton Tyler Brown, a servant boy in the St. George Hotel…The lad has never taken lessons, but his execution will compare favorably with that of acknowledged artists”.

By 1861 G.T. Brown had relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area and was hired as an artist by Charles Conrad Kuchel, a German lithographer. While employed by Kuchel, Brown surveyed and then drew panoramic and bird’s-eye views of many western towns, mines, and military forts. His lithographs often highlighted the homes and properties of prominent people, which Kuchel sold for up to $5 a print. Some of Brown’s most well-known works were of communities throughout Nevada Territory, including, Virginia City (1861 & 1864), and Fort Churchill (1862), and later the State of Nevada, including Winnemucca (1881) and Reno (1907). In 1867, following Kuchel’s death, Brown purchased the business from Kuchel’s widow, and renamed it, G.T. Brown & Co. By 1882, Brown sold his business and joined a geologic survey crew that recorded remote parts of British Columbia. These landscapes later became subjects of his oil paintings, which are currently curated at museums in Victoria, British Columbia; San Francisco, California; and Portland, Oregon.

Handwritten inscription, “My friend G.T.
Brown of San Francisco, Artist 1883.”

Bird’s Eye view of Virginia City, 1861 by G.T. Brown.
In the collection of the Nevada State Museum.