BC Black History Awareness Society (BCBHAS)

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots” - Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr.

Quick Facts

 Contribution: First professional Black artist,working and living in the Pacific North West as well as British Columbia and California 
 Date of Birth: February 22, 1841
 Place of Birth: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
 Date of Death: 1918 
 Place of Death: St. Peter, Minnesota 
 BC Studio: Occidental Hotel at the corner of Wharf and Johnson Streets

Grafton Tyler Brown

Grafton Tyler Brown was a cartographer, lithographer, and painter and is considered the 1st professional Black artist, working and living at the time largely in the Pacific North West as well as British Columbia and California. 

gtbrown studio

The Royal B.C. Museum holds the greatest number of and most significant of Brown's Canadian works.  In March 2018 the Museum purchased another of his paintings; Giant's Castle Mountain: A.L. Fortune's Farm, Enderby B.C.; which is dated October 6, 1882.

Grafton Tyler Brown was the oldest of 4 children born on February 22, 1841 in Harrisburg Pennsylvania to Thomas and Wilhelmina.  Thomas and Wilhelmina were free Blacks who had left the slave state of Maryland for the free state of Pennsylvania in 1837.

Brown worked for a printer when he was 14.  It was there where he learned the skill of lithography.  His next job, at the age of 17, was as a hotel steward and porter.  There his painting caught the attention of the local paper which may have prompted Brown to leave Sacramento and head for San Francisco where he was hired as an artist by a German printer Charles Conrad Kuchel.  While working for Kuchel, Brown's main role was to draw panoramic views of towns as well as the homes and properties of prominent citizens, which Kuchel lithographed and sold.

In 1867 when Kuchel died, Brown bought the business from Kuchel's widow and renamed it "G.T. Brown & Co.". and he continued to document gold rush towns and other area settlements.

Brown became restless again and perhaps to see remote parts of the Northwest. he joined a geological survey party in 1882 which travelled through British Columbia including Kamloops, the Okanagan valley, the Simalkameen area and the Fraser River.  He then established a studio in Victoria in the then Occidental Hotel at the corner of Wharf and Johnson streets.

While in Victoria, Brown continued to establish himself as a landscape painter of note.  His works include landscapes of the Gorge, Esquimalt, Victoria and the surrounding area.

In the summer of 1883 Brown held an art show that was promoted by the British Colonist (now the Times Colonist).

In 1886 he returned to Portland, became a member of the Portland Art Society and again opened his own studio.

He left Portland for Helena, Montana in 1890; he arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1892 to begin work as a draughtsman for the U.S. Army Engineer's Office.  Brown spent the rest of his life in St Paul and died there in 1918.

Brown's other connection to B.C.'s Black Pioneers is that his company, G.T. Brown and Co., was commissioned to create the graphic designs for the labels for John Sullivan Deas Salmon Cannery.

The majority of Brown's works are now housed in Victoria, B.C., San Francisco, California, and Tacoma Washington.