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Bird’s-Eye View of Reno

by “the only known Black to have been an American viewmaker”—Reps

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53.     [BIRD’S-EYE VIEW]. BROWN, G[rafton] T[yler] (lithographer). Reno, The Commercial Center of Nevada; [in view at lower left and right] Sierra Eng. Co. Reno, Nev. | G.T. Brown; [below view and printed in red] The Overland Trust and Realty Co.=Phone 7 Published by the La Place Adv. & Pub. Co., Reno, Nevada, 1907; [centered at lower margin, printed in red] Successors to the Overland Banking Realty Co., 106 E. Commercial Row, Reno, Nevada; [view surrounded by 30 sepia half-tone photographs of Reno buildings and properties, each image within green borders with identifying text printed below]. Lithograph bird’s-eye view of Reno, image: 38.7 x 76.5 cm; image, photographs and text: 65 x 100 cm; overall sheet size: 71 x 106 cm. Professionally washed and backed with archival tissue. Lightly creased where formerly folded. A few minor losses at folds, a few light spots, but overall a fresh, fine copy of an apparently unrecorded bird’s-eye view. With this view is a fine copy of the pamphlet Reno: The Commercial Center of Nevada and Its Surroundings (Reno: Nevada Commercial League, 1907), a promotional issued contemporaneously.

     Reps lists only two bird’s-eye views of Reno, neither of which is this one. The earliest such view of Reno recorded by Reps is the Crocker-Powning view (ca. 1890; Reps 2156). Reps’ second Reno view (2157) is undated, but is by the same lithographer (G.T. Brown), has the same dimensions, and includes thirty vignettes as here, but it was printed by Journal Print in Reno and published by B.M. Barndollar. The present view thus appears to be a reworked version of Reps 2157, with altered title and other elements. The print is an interesting example of a mixture of the various media available to printers in the early part of the twentieth century, combining as it does lithography, photography, and colored typography. Palmquist notes that Brown “frequently published lithographs based on ambrotypes and photographs”(Pioneer Photographers of the Far West, p. 126). The view was probably paid for by revenue from the businesses whose premises are depicted in the photographic vignettes.

     Reno, officially founded in 1868, rapidly became an important crossing point on the route between Salt Lake City and Sacramento. The main impetus for the community’s growth was the Central Pacific Railroad, which came through Reno and whose construction superintendent, Charles Crocker, named the town. Reno became the county seat of Washoe County in 1870. A year later, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad arrived from the south. At that point, most of Reno’s growth had been fueled by mining activities, which were waning by the time this view was made. The view seems to emphasize the community’s transition from a mining town to a solid commercial center, complete with a growing university shown in the far northern part of the city. Expanding street systems and other features emphasize the changing nature of the city. On the whole, this broadside is a fine example of Reno boosterism.

     Grafton Tyler Brown (1841-1918), first African-American lithographer on the West Coast, cartographer, draftsman, and an important Western artist, was born a free Black in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He drifted west in 1861, taking up residence in San Francisco, where he was associated with Kuchel, from whom he learned lithography. After Kuchel’s death, he formed his own firm (Peters, California on Stone, pp. 89-90). In 1882 he migrated to Canada, joining the Amos Boman geological survey party in the Cariboo area. He opened a painting studio in Victoria while continuing to secure lithographic contracts from California. He later served as a draftsman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (1893-1897) before moving to the Civil Engineering Department of St. Paul, where he worked until 1910.

     Reps (Views and Viewmakers of Urban America, pp. 166-167) has a fine article on Brown, “the only known Black to have been an American viewmaker.” In all likelihood, Brown was the first professional African-American artist to work in Nevada. As early as the 1860s, Brown made lithographs of communities and architecture in northern Nevada, especially in the Comstock mining district. In the 1864-1865 Virginia Business Directory his ad states, “Grafton T. Brown. Traveling Artist in Nevada Territory,” touting mining certificates “executed with Neatness and Dispatch.” In 2004, the California Historical Society, in conjunction with the California African American Museum and the Museum of the African Diaspora, presented a traveling exhibit entitled Grafton Tyler Brown: Visualizing California and the Pacific and commented on his work: “Brown was one of many Black Americans of the gold rush generation who migrated west in search of individual freedom, greater economic opportunity and reduced prejudice. He was specifically lured West to continue his trade of lithography in the booming economy based on the profits from the gold and silver mines.” For more on Brown, see: Thomas Riggs, The St. James Guide to Black Artists (Detroit: St. James Press, 1997) and Samuels’ Encyclopedia of Artists of the American West (Castle Press, 1976).


Sold. Hammer: $3,600.00; Price Realized: $4,320.00

Auction 22 Abstracts

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