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Peckham, Lewis Paul Peckham, No Date


Lewis Peckham was born in Newport, Rhode Island, and became the first professional artist to settle in Indiana. He saw Vincennes as a soldier when his regiment journeyed there in 1811 to join William Henry Harrison for the American Indian encounters that ended in the Battle of Tippecanoe. While stationed at Fort Independence, near Boston, Peckham had the opportunity to meet Gilbert Stuart. Stuart, now renowned for his portrait paintings of George Washington, befriended Peckham and loaned him brushes, pencils, and paint. Although Stuart gave him general encouragement, Peckham never received formal art instruction from him. Peckham painted miniatures of many of the officers at Fort Independence in 1810, which helped to prepare him for his career as an artist in Vincennes. After military service, Peckham found his way back to Vincennes. He married Mary Dagenet, whose mother was a princess of the Wea tribe. The Wea reservation was north of Fort Harrison, not far from Terre Haute. In 1816, the year that Indiana was admitted to the Union, Peckham and C. D. Cook announced their partnership in the Vincennes Western Sun (a newspaper) as follows:

“Co-Partnership, Lewis Peckham & C. D. Cook begs leave to inform the citizens of Vincennes and its vicinity that they have commenced Portrait, Ornamental, Sign and House Painting, in the chamber over Mr. N. B. Bailey’s store where any business in the above line mentioned will be attended to in the shortest notice.”

  • Paul Peckham, n.d.
  • 1 3/4″ x 1 1/16″
  • Indianapolis Museum of Art
  • Keywords: paintings, portraits, watercolor on ivory
  • Subjects: people, men, miniatures

This miniature is a portrait of Paul Peckham, the artist’s brother. It is painted on an ivory oval. Before the invention of photographic processes, portraiture was the only way to record a likeness. A miniature was the only way to carry the likeness of a loved one conveniently. Note the fine detail in this portrait despite its small size.

Some Points to Consider

  • Portraits in early Indiana were made only for those who could afford them and who could find an artist to paint them. Photographs eventually replaced miniature portraits. Ask students which kind of portrait is more realistic, a painting or a photograph? Ask why they think some people still have their portraits painted today. What style is typically used for such paintings? (Art 4.2.2)