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Mill-boys Racing, circa 1850
David Hunter Strother (1816-1888)

View Artist Bio
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 inches
Original Frame
Status: The Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina

Author, artist, soldier, and diplomat David Hunter Strother rose to national fame as a correspondent for Harper's Magazine, writing and illustrating humorous anecdotes about Southern life in the Shenandoah Valley under the pseudonym "Porte Crayon." Undergirded by solid academic training, Strother was widely regarded as the leading graphic artist of the Civil War era.

Born in Martinsburg, Virginia, Strother, a sickly youth, was encouraged in his early artistic interest by his concerned parents. His first formal instruction came from the Italian drawing master, Pietro Ancora, in Philadelphia in 1829; he later attended Jefferson College. In 1836, Strother came under the tutelage of John Gadsby Chapman, who schooled the young man in the principles of draughtsmanship. A year later, at Chapman’s urging. Strother enrolled at New York University, where he studied with Samuel F. B. Morse. The enthusiastic response his work garnered subsequently led to European travel and further study in Italy.

It was Chapman who persuaded Strother to pursue employment as a graphic artist. His first major commission was for a set of twenty illustrations for the popular book Swallow Barn by John P. Kennedy. Soon thereafter, Strother, inspired by the example of Washington Irving, launched an association with Fletcher Harper of Harper’s Magazine. Using the pen name “Porte Crayon,” Strother penned amusing vignettes, usually centered on Southern mores and culture, and always accompanied by his own woodcut drawings. Over the course of his career, he contributed over fifty articles to the magazine. Many of these writings were subsequently released in book form under the titles The Blackwater Chronicle and Virginia Illustrated. In addition to his commercial work, Strother produced finished studio canvases as well, as evidenced by this example.

An anti-secessionist, Strother served the Union army as a topographer, participated in some thirty battles, and was ultimately promoted to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. He submitted eleven installments recounting these experiences to Harper’s which were published as “Personal Recollections of the War.” In 1879, Strother was appointed the diplomatic consul to Mexico by President Rutherford B. Hayes.

From the artist to his sister, Emily Strother Randolph
Emily Strother Randolph to her son, Beverley Strother Randolph
Estate of Beverley Strother Randolph to his nephew, O. Robbins Randolph
O. Robbins Randolph to his daughter, Jean Randolph Bruns

Jessie Poesch and John Cuthbert, David Hunter Strother:  "One of the Best Draughtsmen the Country Possesses" (Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 1997).  Illustrated page 57.

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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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