Exhibition - In Quest of Beauty: The Life and Times of Junius R. Sloan

Thursday, Jun 18, 2020 from 12:00am to 3:38am


In Quest of Beauty: The Life and Times of Junius R. Sloan, 1827-1900

In Quest of Beauty presents the story of Junius R. Sloan, a gifted Ohio farm boy of Yankee stock who became one of the pioneer journeyman artists for everyday mid-America. He provided fine portraits to people in villages and small cities and highly accomplished landscapes to professional and business leaders of Chicago.

Sloan's story shows that he and his circle of family and friends heeded Horace Greeley's call to "Go West, Young Man." They believed in the "Gospel of Beauty", that is that beauty in landscape art is ultimately a reflection of Divinity. His circle achieved their careersthrough mentoring, apprenticeships, and self-education rather than formal schooling.

Junius' voice in art was that of the first American landscape style--the Hudson River School. He stuck to it, even when that style was superseded by European imports and others, and when the American scene was changing from rural to urban. To some extent Junius did keep up with the times by embracing the new "Mirror with a Memory"--photography--and using its growing variations to help him create likenesses and, perhaps, landscapes.

Excerpts from the letters of Junius and of others, their voice in written words, help tell the story. The letters and Sloan's art are drawn from the extraordinary collection of 400 oils, watercolors and sketchbooks at the Brauer Museum of Art, and the hundreds of Sloan family letters, cashbooks and photographs in the Newberry Library, Chicago.


The exhibition In Quest of Beauty: The Art and Life of Junius R. Sloan (1827-1900) is the first in a series of exhibitions interpreting the permanent collection of the Brauer Museum of Art at Valparaiso University. It is part of a larger project entitled "Nature and Culture in American Art" which was made possible through a matching grant from the Indiana Humanities Council in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support was provided by the Sloan Endowment and Valparaiso University. This series was designed for teachers and students of all ages to use the museum's collection as a "visual library" to study the humanities through art. Each exhibition in the series was first realized as a pilot online exhibition which was discussed by a focus group of teachers in the humanities. To revisit the Sloan material, visit the Brauer Museum's website at: www.valpo.edu/artmuseum.

The Brauer Museum of Art is fortunate to own the "collection of record" of Junius Sloan, which includes over 400 paintings, watercolors, photographs, sketchbooks, letters and other documents pertaining to the artist. While this archival treasure records an artist's life in the 19th century, it also reveals a unique social history of the period. We are grateful to Percy H. Sloan, the son of the artist, for donating 276 works by Sloan, as well as 107 American paintings and a generous endowment fund "for the establishment, maintenance, and expansion of the collection." The remaining 124 Sloan paintings and documents were donated by J. Carson Webster and family descendants through the efforts of Richard H. W. Brauer, who has devoted years of research to Junius Sloan. Professor Brauer's work has been a labor of love and his scholarship has given Sloan a lasting legacy. It is Dick's passion for Sloan's work which has made the nineteenth century come alive in the minds and hearts of all of us who have had the distinct privilege of hearing Mr. Brauer speak so lovingly about this "gifted Great Lakes Region farm boy."

We gratefully acknowledge the loans from the Chicago Historical Society, the Essex Historical Society, Connecticut, and Gridley McKim Smith for the current exhibition. We are indebted to Ellen Brauer, John Feaster, Esther Sparks Sprague, and Ross Carmichael (VU 1999) for their editorial assistance. We especially want to thank John Paul Avila (Class of 2000) for the exceptional design of the brochure and our website. We want to acknowledge Gretchen Demuth (Class of 2000) and Kirsten Renahan of our Museum Education Committee for their unique contributions to the teacher packet. Every member of the Brauer Museum staff has contributed to the success of the exhibition. Particular mention must be made of the work of Juliet Istrabadi for her coordination and editing of the online project; Rebecca Simons for her work on the time line and coordination of events and publications; Christina Grevera for coordinating the loans and works of art, and Liz Wuerffel (Class of 2000) for her assistance. We also thank Wendy Barker (Class of 2000), Carl Galow, and Gerald Knarr for the installation of the exhibition.

We hope that visitors will come away with a richer under-standing of the range of artistry of Junius R. Sloan, as well as an appreciation of the way in which his life intersected with the social history of nineteenth-century America.

Early Life:

Junius was a farm boy who loved to draw and to study the beauty of nature. In his childhood and youth there was little if any formal art schooling available, let alone works of art for him to see and study. Instead he was compelled to learn by doing. When he reached his majority, he traveled as an itinerant portraitist and looked for artist mentors.

Life as a Landscapist:

For nineteenth century Americans, a vast, unspoiled continent, both spectacular and commonplace, was being revealed as the American homeland. Until the Civil War at least, most American landscape painters celebrated this homeland vision as a symbol of America and of God's goodness. Junius Sloan was one of those artists; he came late and stayed long at this task. For him, painting the beauty of Divine order in untouched and pastoral landscapes had long been akin to an act of worship. Junius painted 'beauty for the joy of it.'

Life as a Portraitist:

After taking two years off to help his father establish a farm on the Illinois prairie, Junius became resident portraitist in the Bureau County seat, Princeton, Illinois. By 1856 Junius' portrait production had arrived at the level of finish and workmanship modeled for him by Moses Billings. His drawing was accurate. Head forms were well-defined, with shading and coloring used to create convincing three-dimensional mass. He could offer good commercial portraits, and he got customers.

Emigration to the Midwest:

In the summer of 1815 my Uncle Samuel Rice who married my mother's sister,and Reuben Luce, a cousin of my father', became much interested in the finedescriptions given of the beauty of the country in northern Ohio, then known as 'New Connecticut.' They visited Ohio that summer, located a couple of farms, and in the spring of 1816 moved their families and effects out there. My brothers Artemas and Calvin gathered up a scanty wardrobe, put them into packs made of linen cloth made by mother, with axe with handles sticking from the packs and started with them for their western home. They accompanied the teams most of the distance, however they carried their own packs. At Chataqui Lake, Jamestown, my brothers stopped for a month or two and worked, then went on to Ohio. In the fall of 1816 my father made a trip to Ohio in a one horse wagon - was gone about six weeks.