Ohio History Journal

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Itinerant Painting In Ohio:

Origins and Implications




Among the most intriguing features of Ohio's art history is the

role of itinerant painting in the development of the region's art-

how and why itinerant painting occurred, what implications the

itinerant experience had for the career of the individual artist, and

in what manner Ohio itinerant painting might have contributed to

(or be related to) the growth of "mainstream" American painting.

Itinerant painting is deceptively simple to characterize: the artist

travels from one location to another to purvey his wares in the

tradition of the medieval craftsman in Europe or the "hawker" or

peddler in American commercial life. While professionals of various

callings were constrained to follow peripatetic careers in the early

days of the west-doctors, lawyers, judges and ministers come readi-

ly to mind-the peddler remains the archetypal nomad. He was also

the embodiment of a particularly American brand of en-

trepeneurship. Popularly thought to be a clever and shrewd

businessman, the peddler was, like the country itself, always on the

move; necessarily genial and "democratic" in his social contacts, he

was at ease in both rural and metropolitan settings. The vigor with

which he pursued his difficult occupation was much admired, and

one sometimes feels the prevalence of the peddler image in Amer-

ican art is a consequence of the artist's identification with the com-

mercial traveller's life.1

A comparison of C.B. King's painting The Itinerant Artist (fig. 1)

with J.W. Ehninger's famous canvas The Yankee Peddler (fig. 2)

reveals the close alliance. The painter unpacks his equipment and

demonstrates his craft to an admiring audience, much as the ped-




Barbara Groseclose is an Associate Professor in the Department of History of Art at

The Ohio State University.


1. Cf. Patricia Hills, The Painter's America, Rural and Urban Life, 1810-1910

(New York, 1974), 5.