Grafton Tyler Brown—whose heritage was likely one-eighth African American—finessed his way through San Francisco society by passing for white. Working in an environment hostile to African American achievement, Brown became a successful commercial artist and businessman in the rough-and-tumble gold rush era and the years after the Civil War. Best known for his bird’s-eye cityscapes, he also produced and published maps, charts, and business documents, and he illustrated books, sheet music, advertisements, and labels for cans and other packaging.

This biography by a distinguished California historian gives an underappreciated artist and his work recognition long overdue. Focusing on Grafton Tyler Brown’s lithography and his life in nineteenth-century San Francisco, Robert J. Chandler offers a study equally fascinating as a business and cultural history and as an introduction to Brown the artist.

Chandler’s contextualization of Brown’s career goes beyond the issue of race. Showing how Brown survived and flourished as a businessman, Chandler offers unique insight into the growth of printing and publishing in California and the West. He examines the rise of lithography, its commercial and cultural importance, and the competition among lithographic companies. He also analyzes Brown’s work and style, comparing it to the products of rival firms.

Brown was not respected as a fine artist until after his death. Collectors of western art and Americana now recognize the importance of Californiana and of Brown’s work, some of which depicts Portland and the Pacific Northwest, and they will find Chandler’s checklist, descriptions, and reproductions of Brown’s ephemera—including billheads and maps—as uniquely valuable as Chandler’s contribution to the cultural and commercial history of California. In an afterword, historian Shirley Ann Wilson Moore discusses the circumstances and significance of passing in nineteenth-century America.


About The Author
Robert J. Chandler, (1942–2019) was a historian for Wells Fargo Bank and the author of numerous articles and books on California history, including California: An Illustrated History and California and the Civil War, 1861–1865.
Ron Tyler is retired as director of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas. He is the contributor to and author of numerous books on art and photography of the American West, including Alfred Jacob Miller: Artist as Explorer, Visions of America: Pioneer Artists in a New Land, and Prints of the West: Prints from the Library of Congress.

Shirley Ann Wilson Moore is Professor Emerita at California State University Sacramento, where she specialized in U.S. and African American history. She received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1989. Moore is the author of To Place Our Deeds: The African American Community in Richmond, California, 1910–1963 and coeditor, with Quintard Taylor, of African American Women Confront the West, 1600–2000.

Book Information
20 b&w and 125 color illus.
264 Pages
Hardcover 978-0-8061-4410-8
Published January 2014
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