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Solitary Pirogue by the Bayou, 1886
Joseph Rusling Meeker (1827–1887)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
17 3/4 x 30 inches
Signature Details: JR Meeker 86
Status: Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia

Born in Newark, New Jersey, April 21, 1827, Meeker was raised in Auburn, a town in the Finger Lakes district of New York State.  There he received encouragement, if not actual lessons in art from Thomas J. Kennedy, a local decorator. He went to New York City in 1845 with George L. Clough, another aspiring artist from Auburn. They studied with Charles Loring Elliott, a portraitist who had previously worked as an itinerary in the Finger Lakes.

Meeker spent three years in New York. He returned to Auburn briefly, but by the autumn of 1849 was living in Buffalo. The American Art Union of New York purchased some of landscapes of the Buffalo area. In the winter of 1852 Meeker moved west, settling in Louisville, Kentucky. In his seven years there he painted views on the Ohio, Kentucky, and Salt rivers. He also gave art lessons in his studio.

In 1859 Meeker settled in St. Louis, a city which then rivaled Cincinnati as a western center with a substantial base of art patronage. The Western Academy of Art was founded in St. Louis the year of Meeker's arrival. The stated purpose of the academy was to form a collection of art, to establish an art school, and to provide gallery space in which artists could regularly display their work. Artists who had already found St. Louis to be a rich and rewarding environment in which to work and were established there by the time of Meeker's arrival included Carl Wimar, Ferdinand Boyle, Manuel de Franca and Alban Jasper Conant.

During the War Between the States Meeker served the Union cause as paymaster on a gunboat that patrolled the Mississippi Delta.  The humid landscape of swamp and bayou made a profound impression upon him, influencing his production for the rest of his life.  He was touched by the element of mystery that he found in this landscape.

Returning to St. Louis at the end of the War, Meeker took studio space at Chestnut and Fifth Streets. There he began to paint easel pictures based on his sketches and memories of southern Louisiana. He traveled extensively in the summer months to the upper Mississippi River, the Adirondack Mountains, Colorado, and Wyoming. At the St. Louis Exposition and Fair of 1878, Meeker exhibited five paintings, two of which were scenes of the Mississippi delta region and three of which were scenes on the upper Mississippi. Meeker also exhibited his work in the St. Louis galleries of Harding's, Zeeger's, and Pette and Leathe.

Meeker was active in St. Louis art circles. He was a founding member of the St. Louis Art Society in 1872, and served several terms as its president before the organization dissolved in 1880.  He was active in the St. Louis Sketch Club, formed in 1877, which was open to professional and amateur artists alike. This club met in the artists' studios, and at each meeting the host for the subsequent meeting would announce a subject which all the members would sketch. When they next gathered, they would view and discuss each other's work. Meeker's suggestions included Longfellow's poem "Evangeline," the setting of which was the swamps of southern Louisiana.

After a full and successful career as a painter of the southern and western landscape, Meeker died at his St. Louis home on September 27, 1887.

Cynthia Seibels

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This essay is copyrighted by Robert M. Hicklin Jr., Inc. and may not be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.

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