Question of the Week
What is the name of this deaf 19th century portraitist?
Answer: Albert Newsam
In 1809, Albert Newsam was born deaf and mute in Steubenville, Ohio, and orphaned at an early age. As a child, he displayed natural artistic talents in writing and drawing that did not go unnoticed. In 1820, a man that went by the name William P. Davis persuaded Newsam’s caregiver to let him travel with Davis to Philadelphia to receive an education. Along the way to Philadelphia, Davis deviously posed as Newsam’s brother and exploited the child, making him write and draw for show and money (all of which went into Davis’s pockets).
While in Philadelphia, Newsam caught the attention of the revered Bishop William White, best known as rector of Christ’s Church, but also president of the recently established Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb (today called the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf). White admitted Newsam to the school, where his artistic abilities blossomed. He apprenticed with Philadelphia lithographer Col. Cephas G. Childs in 1827 and later became a principal artist with the noted printer Peter S. Duval.
A master copyist and portraitist, Newsam is credited with helping to elevate the art of lithography in the United States. He produced portraits of many notable people, including President Andrew Jackson and author James Fenimore Cooper. His career ended suddenly in 1859 when he suffered a stroke that affected his vision and coordination. He spent his final years at Dr. John A. Brown’s Living Home for the Sick and Well, near Wilmington, Delaware, and died there in 1864.
HSP's Albert Newsam print collection (#V100) contains prints of many of Newsam's works and is available for research. Additional publications on his history are available in HSP's library.
Image: Albert Newsam, print of a lithograph by P. S. Duval & Co. (circa 1868)
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.