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Edward Mitchell Bannister- 19th Century African American Artist

Updated on February 9, 2016

Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901) was an African-American and Canadian American tonalist painter born in St. Andrews, New Brunswick in November of 1828. As a young boy, he gained attention in school for his sketches. His love for art was demonstrated before he was ten years old.

In 1840, Bannister moved to New England. As a young man, he made his living at sea as a cook on a coaster. He would sail his small yachts on Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor for more than 25 years. In 1856, he married Narragansett Indian Christiana Carteux.

Bannister's early works were scriptural scenes. His appreciation for nature lead him to deeply examine the sunset and its clouds and shadows. It wasn't until later in his life that he began to add figures, accessories and cattle to his work.

Before his arrival in Providence in 1871, Bannister spent some time in New York working with a photographer on his solar prints. He would paint scriptural scenes. It was suggested that he enter art as a profession and, thus, Bannister developed into an "enthusiastic artist". He won a major award for his painting " Under The Oaks" which depicted oaks Bannister had seen in Potowamut, Rhode Island. His other paintings included scenes from his visits near Knightsville, Rhode Island.

In 1878, Bannister met at his studio with George W. Whitaker and Charles W. Stetson to begin the process of gaining art interest from collectors, amateurs and dealers. On February 19, 1880 they formed the Providence Art Club. Bannister was the second signer of the document that formed the club.

Bannister would go on to receive a medal from the Centennial Exposition, a silver medal from the Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association in 1881 and 1884 and a bronze in 1878. Unfortunately, in his later years, Bannister was not very successful. In fact, due to racial prejudice he work was forgotten for almost a century. On January 9, 1901, Bannister died of a heart attack while in attendance at a prayer meeting at his Elmwood Avenue Church in Providence, the Free Baptist Church. He died a poor man.

With the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1970's, Bannister's work once again surfaced and gained recognition. A memorial committee made of up the day's leading artists and Providence Art Club members raised funds to erect a large boulder "with a bronze palette and scroll" in honor of Bannister. The boulder is located near his grave in the North Burial Ground in Providence. Rhode Island College named its art gallery after Bannister.

Sources: "Edward Mitchell Bannister-wikipedia, the free encyclopedia" (

Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901)
Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828-1901)


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    • cohoyo1 profile image

      Candace Nadine Breen 23 months ago from Barrington, Rhode Island

      You are very welcome. Thanks for reading!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 23 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I was not previously aware of Edward Mitchell Bannister. You stimulated me to take a look at some of his paintings. Thanks!