Rufus Porter


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Painter. Also an inventor, editor, and writer. Known particularly for landscape murals, he also painted portraits, which he found he could produce rapidly and cheaply after he built a camera obscura to assist his hand. Virtually personifying Yankee ingenuity, he also founded Scientific American magazine and devised numerous mechanical inventions. Born into a farming family in the northeastern Massachusetts town of West Boxford, at nine he moved with his family to Maine. By about 1810 he worked as a house and sign painter in the Portland area. Around 1815 he began painting portraits and cutting paper silhouette profiles. For the next decade he worked itinerantly, ranging throughout New England and as far south as Virginia. His first known mural dates to 1824. Before he turned to other pursuits in the 1840s, he painted landscapes on the walls of scores of New England houses and taverns. Some are merely overmantel scenes, but others wrap around entire rooms. All depict idealized landscapes of the sort popularized by the Hudson River School, although he sometimes included fanciful elements or details of local scenery. With time his work became more sophisticated, but he regularly used labor-saving devices such as generalized foliage and stenciled elements in creating his charming decorations. In the mid-1820s Porter assembled an instructional manual, A Select Collection of Valuable and Curious Arts, and Interesting Experiments. After five years of editing American Mechanic magazine in New York, in 1845 he founded Scientific American, originally a weekly devoted to new inventions. He sold it the following year, but by then had written nearly fifty columns for the periodical, describing his experiences as an artist and offering encouragement to amateurs. For the rest of his life he focused on inventions. In 1849 he published plans for a form of aerial transport. Applying his practical mind to religious matters, in 1852 he published Essential Truth, a compilation of several hundred biblical extracts. Frequently on the move throughout his life, he lived at numerous locations in New England, as well as in New York and Washington, D.C. While residing in Bristol, Connecticut, he died on a visit to West Haven.

Subjects: Art.

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