One family created three generations of Arkansas art
No family has contributed more to the art history of Arkansas than the Brewer clan of Little Rock and elsewhere. The fact that three generations of brewers can live as artists in the state speaks volumes about the arts in a relatively small southern capital.
The first of the artists was Nicholas R. Brewer, born in 1857. He became a well-established portrait and landscape painter and began exhibiting at the National Academy of Design in New York in 1885. A resident of St. Paul, Minn. , he traveled extensively, exposing his son Adrian to art and artists from around the world.
Adrian developed an interest in art very early on. When he was 12, he had his own “little art studio,” with a desk, library, and drawing supplies. He particularly enjoyed drawing horses and kept a journal of his daily visits to a local smithy.
His father treated Adrian like a serious student and warned his son, “When you can draw the human figure as faithfully as you can draw a horse, you will be fine.”
In 1911, Adrian entered the University of Minnesota, where he studied art. At the same time, he began studies at the Art Institute of St. Paul and later studied for a short period at the Art Students League in New York.
Jolynda Hammock Halinski, author of the entry on Adrian Brewer in The Arkansas Encyclopedia, wrote that “he learned more about the art from some of his father’s associates than from his classes.”
After graduating, Adrian returned to St. Paul, where he taught at art institutes before opening a commercial art studio in Minneapolis. He developed great clients, including Pillsbury. It is believed that his work in commercial art had a substantial impact on his later work as a painter.
During World War I, Adrian enlisted in the military, where he soon painted patriotic posters, cartoons, and other works. After his military service, he joined his father as a business manager and assistant, a role he played on and off for years. He also continued to paint and won numerous prizes in the Saint-Paul competitions.
Adrian and his father came to Arkansas in 1919, when the Art Association of Little Rock sponsored an exhibition of Nicholas’ work. While in Little Rock, Nicholas received several orders and he took his son with him to Hot Springs, where they set up a studio at the Eastman Hotel.
In Hot Springs, Adrian met Edwina Cook, whom he married in 1921. Their son, Edwin, would become a renowned artist, as did Edwin’s daughter, Audrey Brewer Wood.
After his marriage, Adrian made another foray into the commercial art industry before tiring himself out and resolving to become a professional artist. Again, he worked for his father, using the time to hone his landscape painting skills.
In 1928, Adrian caused a sensation in the art world when he won the enormous Edgar B. Davis Prize of $ 2,500 for his painting of landscapes in the Blue Cap of Texas. The painting is in the holdings of the Witte Museum in San Antonio.
Another example of this “bluebonnet period” is a large painting donated by the late Fred Darragh at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System in downtown Little Rock.
The Davis Prize resulted in many commissions and financial gains, but Adrian was afraid of being known as a “flower painter,” so he traveled to New Mexico, where he produced 126 paintings by landscapes.
Fortunately, Adrian Brewer spent a lot of time painting Arkansas scenes. He often paints from the tops of the mountains like Petit Jean. He also found a constant stream of clients wanting portraits – over 300, including US Senator Joseph T. Robinson. This portrait was then hung on the State Capitol.
Commissions in Washington, DC and New York helped the Brewer family survive the Great Depression. In 1939 Brewer was closely identified with Arkansas, and that year he was selected to paint “a gallery of original oil paintings of scenes from Arkansas” for the New York World’s Fair. .
It was a painting of the American flag just before the outbreak of World War II that became Adrian’s most famous work. Representing the flag hanging loosely from a pole, it is a majestic and inspiring interpretation that immediately caught on.
Reproductions of this painting hung in countless classrooms and cinemas during the war. It can still be found in antique stores and online auctions. The original became the property of the US Naval Academy.
Like his father before him, Adrian Brewer passed on his artistic abilities to his son Edwin, who was a renowned painter in Arkansas and later in California. Several of Edwin’s works are in the collections of the Butler Center in Little Rock, including a series of large watercolors depicting historic sites in Arkansas.
Edwin also worked at the Arkansas Arts Center, launching an artmobile that brought art to more remote counties.
While Adrian was primarily known as an artist, some in Little Rock later recalled him as an educator and patron of other artists. With the help of another talented artist, Powell Scott, he opened the Adrian Brewer School of Art in downtown Little Rock.
Students were treated to painting lessons while poet John Gould Fletcher read poems, architect Max Mayer could lecture on tall buildings, and beloved local musician Josef Rosenberg often played the piano.
When the first school failed due to the Depression, Adrian and his sons founded the Cedar Street Studio after World War II. For years, this studio has been a haven for Arkansans who yearned for an artistic presence in their lives.
The late University of Arkansas art professor David Durst perhaps best summed up Brewer’s major contribution when he wrote that Brewer kept “the spark of aesthetic sensibility alive during the difficult years. of cultural neglect ”.
Tom Dillard is a retired historian and archivist living near Glen Rose in Hot Spring County. Email him at [email protected] A version of this column was published on March 11, 2007.