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arlee Matlin was born on August 24, 1965 to Libby and Donald Matlin in Morton Grove, Illinois. Her father was a car dealer. At 18 months old, Marlee was stricken with Roseola, a disease similar to Scarlett Fever, and became deaf. Marlee attended a regular hearing school and was assimilated into a regular classroom. Although her parents and brothers learned to sign in order to communicate with her, Libby worried that Marlee would feel isolated or alienated being among so many hearing people and encouraged her to spend a lot of time at the deaf center down town. This is where Marlee started acting, portraying the role of Dorothy in a children’s version of The Wizard Of Oz when she was 7.
Marlee always assumed that because she was deaf, she could never make a living as an actress. Instead, she decided to get her degree in Criminal Justice from Harper Junior College. Just as she finished school, a frend suggested that she try out for the stage version of Children Of A Lesser God. She decided to do it, and was given a minor role in the chorus. Later, when the play moved to Broadway, Marlee was offered the main role of “Sarah”. Henry Winkler, famous for the role of “Fonzie” on Happy Days, came to see the show one day and was impressed by Marlee’s performance. When it was time to cast the movie version of the play, Henry Winkler suggested Marlee to the movie’s producers and she was eventually offered the main role. That year, at the age of 21, Marlee became the youngest person to ever win an Academy Award for Best Actress.
The Oscar win jumpstarted Marlee’s career. She has worked in mainstream television, and has numerous feature film credits, even having several roles created specifically for her. Many people who have worked with her cite her deafness as being an asset to her acting ability. Because she is such a visual person, she is better able to convey meaning using body language instead of tone of voice. Marlee even took on the role of a hearing woman in the TV movie Against Her Will: The Carrie Buck Story. She won several awards for this role and says it was a very rewarding experience to be able to bring more attention to the important cause of forced sterilization.
Marlee Matlin is somewhat of a controversial figure in Deaf Culture today. While she is a beautiful and well-spoken woman, some feel that her use of voice to communicate and her bawdy, uncouth sense of humor convey the wrong message to the hearing community about what deaf people are really like. Some even feel that by using her voice so frequently, she is implying that she isn’t proud to be deaf. Marlee has made it clear that she certainly doesn’t feel that way. She has said on many occasions how proud she is to be deaf, and how lucky she has been to have such a rewarding career. In business situations, she does have a personal interpreter to help her communicate.
Marlee was married to Kevin Grandalski, a hearing Law Enforcement Officer, in 1993. They were married in Henry Winkler’s backyard. They currently have 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys, who they are raising to be fluent in both English and American Sign Language. Marlee does a lot of charity work in the community, especially for the Red Cross, the Children Affected By AIDS Foundation, and the Elizabeth Glasser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. She has been given an honorary degree from Gallaudet University and currently serves on their board. She is also a spokesperson for the National Captioning Institute, and has written several children’s books loosely based on her experiences growing up as the only deaf person in a hearing neighborhood.
Marlee Matlin is probably the most visible deaf person in America today. In 1998, when asked about her “Disability” she responded: “The real handicap of deafness is not in the ear,but in the mind. We all have challenges in life of one kind or another. We can achieve much more if we focus on our abilities rather than our percieved disabilities.”
To learn more about what Marlee is doing today, visit her official website at http://www.marleematlinsite.com .
K, I admit it. I fingerspell when driving. Sometimes I’m so involved in fingerspelling that I don’t realize that my car is no longer driving completely straight in my lane. I always correct myself quickly, and no harm has ever come from this silly habit except for some mild embarrassment on my part. I used to like to do the license plates because then I can practice both my letters and my numbers at the same time, but I don’t do that anymore.
It dawned on my recently that this solution of signing license plates isn’t very practical. By signing the letters on a license plate, I’m learning how to think quickly when making the letters or numbers, but I’m not learning to spell actual words and my hands aren’t getting accustomed to switching between common letter combinations. So I’ve come up with a different solution.
I googled”Most Popular American Names”, and I came up with a list of both last names and first names, and how often they’re used. Not only did I learn that “Mary” is the most popular name for a woman in America, but I also get to practice actual names in context. It also has the added benefit of being something I can use later when (and if) I’m interpreting. I figure I’m going to have to fingerspell a lot of names, and if I can already do the top 200 American Names quickly, I’ll be good to go for real life situations. I carry the lists with me, and I practice whenever I have down time. Sometimes people look at me strangely like I’m talking to myself or something (OK, maybe it’s because I am), but I consider that a casualty of learning to speak fluent ASL.
As a side benefit, it’s also improved my driving habits.
bit the bullet, and I went to Deaf Night at Starbucks at the local mall. Ironically, I didn’t meet any deaf people. I did meet plenty of ASL speakers though, and there were so many people there that I’m sure I just didn’t get around to meeting them as I chatted with others. I had an amazingly great time, and I’m so proud of myself!!
It was a cool, dark evening. I pulled into the white and concrete parking structure with the adrenaline pumping through my veins. I had specifically asked both my sister and my husband not to come with me, because I was so afraid that I would spend the whole evening talking with them in English, and use them as a crutch to not use ASL. I regretted that decision a little now, with my sweaty hands gripped against the steering wheel of my parked car. I knew it was the right decision, but I could really use the backup right now. My outfit of crisp jeans and a brown button-down underneath a beige trench was carefully chosen to make me look adult, but not stuck-up. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
“You can do this” I told myself. “All you have to do is walk in there, buy a coffee, and assess the situation. If it looks too intimidating, you can just go home.” I stepped out of my car and walked to the Starbucks.
I saw them right away. There was a huge group of animated people sitting on the outside patio. They were the quietest group of people I think I’ve ever seen sit together, and I knew instantly that this had to be the group I was looking for. My suspicions were confirmed when a girl stood up and signed something excitedly to a friend across the patio. I wished I could survey a little, see if I could recognize some of the signs… if they were too advanced for me, but I knew how rude it is to stare at conversations you’re not a part of. I took the long way around to the Starbucks entrance and got in line to order my tea.
OK, I’m not that proud of it, but I did hide out in the Starbucks for about ten minutes. I nonchalantly stationed myself behind the CD display and peeked at the people signing outside. “Just go out and do it” I told myself. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
“They could give me a look of pure and utter disdain and turn their backs on my feeble attempts to make distinguishable signs.” I answered. But what were the chances of that, really? Probably not that good. I realized right then that they don’t teach you in school how to politely introduce yourself. Most of the people on the patio looked like they would be nice to me, though. I decided to just walk right up to the first group I saw and see what happened. If they thought I was rude, I guess I could just never come back. It’s all about taking risks, right? I was almost sure they wouldn’t look at me with disdain.
It worked. Everyone was amazingly nice to me, and one gentleman even insisted on giving me his chair. We realized after a little bit that we both went to the same school, and he had tried to add my (full) ASL1 class almost a year ago. I chatted with students from RCC and Mt. SAC too. It was only after a while of signing with everyone that I realized they were all hearing, in various levels of ASL class. I laughed a little to myself about how ironic it was that I didn’t meet any deaf people at Deaf Night. Not that I minded, I just found it a little chuckle-worthy.
My ASL stood up fine, and I was even able to teach the others a few terms (like semester). I learned “diploma” “freshman, sophomore, junior, senior” and “Norco” from them. One of the students even asked me if I was in ASL 3 (I’m still in 2)! I felt that maybe my skills are a little bit better that my perception of them. I love it that ASL speakers are just so kind to learners.
It was a grand night, sipping tea under the stars and chatting the night away. I will definitely go again next month, and in the meantime I plan to visit other similar Deaf Events in my community. There’s a Panera Bread on my way to work that has a Deaf Night once a week, and I know that other Starbucks have gatherings on different nights. I can’t wait to go and chat again. I think that some conversational practice is really what my ASL skills could use. I’ve gained so much confidence from just those few hours, all the grief I gave myself beforehand was well worth it for the knowledge that my skills translate to the real world too.
he musical Pippin is a coming of age story about entering the adult world for the first time. Pippin, the main character, has just graduated from college and tries a million different things to make his life meaningful, hoping to find something that will lift him out of his mundane life and make him great. When all his grand ideas fail, he realizes that love is the most important thing a person can aspire to. Shepherding Pippin through life is the Main Player and his band of ensemble who make Pippin’s life magical, lead him astray, and in the end, try to convince him to kill himself in a blaze of glory because it would make an exciting finale. The story of Pippin is easily relatable to any life, to the grand dreams we all have as young adults, but the production seems especially suited to reflect Deaf Culture. The producers at Deaf West Theater undoubtedly realized this when they staged their magical version of Pippin, blending American Sign Language and English seamlessly into the best production I’ve ever seen.
Everything about the musical seemed magical. From the moment the disembodied, red hands rose from the floor and started signing, to the moment the Main Player sliced Pippin in half and made him into two people, to the six men who came out from under Pippin’s Grandmother’s huge skirt and started singing, everything about the production was surprising and delightful. It was impossible to know what was around the next corner, and I couldn’t wait to find out. The costumes and props reminded me of something taken from a deck of cards, but spicier and more fun, and the sets were incredible yet simple at the same time. Though it’s so hard to pick just one thing, I think my favorite part about the show was how the choreography was staged. Signs were transformed into movement that looked and read like dancing, but conveyed the exact feeling of the music happening on stage. It’s the first time I’ve seen signing to music that actually conveyed the mood of the song being sung, and not just a transcript of what the song’s words are.
While I don’t want to presume to speak for others, I believe that the story of Pippin is especially poignant when performed with Deaf players. I have seen many magic shows take place in the Deaf community around Southern California, and it seems like the magic throughout Pippin is an extension of the magic in the community. Another place I think the show hits home is through the character of Pippin himself. He arrives on the scene completely exuberant, yet unable to communicate. The Main Player slices him in half and suddenly he is two people: The speaking Pippin and the signing Pippin. Untimately the speaking Pippin is an extension of the Main Player himself, and when Pippin refuses to cooperate and die in a blaze of glory, he is stripped of his clothes, his voice, and all the magic the Main Player has surrounded him with. He is left instead with the woman and boy that he loves, and he finds a new voice when she starts to interpret his words for the audience. I’m sure that Pippin’s struggle to communicate is easily relatable to many Deaf people, as is Pippin’s struggle to find a voice of his own.
After this wonderful experience, I have decided that Pippin is my new favorite musical (it used to be Will Rogers Follies). It spoke both cross-culturally and poignantly, using a blend of American Sign Language and English to effortlessly depict it’s relevant story line. It’s no wonder Deaf West Theater has won so many awards. I can’t wait to see what they come out with next.
I have chosen to refer to William Hoy as “Dummy” in this essay. In his lifetime, he repeatedly asked people to call him “Dummy”, and prefered this name to the name William. Though the name has negative connotations today, I felt that it was important, and ultimately respectful to his memory, to call the man what he asked to be called during his life.
illiam Hoy was born in 1862. At the age of 3, he suffered from an attack of spinal menengitis, which left him completely deaf. William attended the Ohio School for the Deaf for seven years, from 1872-1879, and was Valedictorian of his graduating class. He came back home to become a cobler in the local shoe business, which he eventually bought. Often times, he could be found just outside his shop playing baseball with all the kids in the neighborbood, and in the summers he joined the local baseball team, where he played catcher. It was around this time that everyone started calling him “Dummy”. In those days, Dummy didn’t mean that he was stupid, it just meant that he couldn’t speak. Dummy never minded the nickname, and even used to correct reporters when they would call him “William”, writing on his notepad “Call me Dummy like always.”
One summer during an away game in Urbana, a pitcher for the major leagues joined the opposite team. When Dummy was able to hit four times against the professional pitcher, he started thinking maybe he could play professionally. Dummy promised his mother he would be back in spring to take shoe order, and went to see if a professionaly team would have him. At his first tryouts for a minor league team called the Brewers, everything he did was applauded. But when Dummy asked them for $75 per month salary, they laughed at him and offered him $60. Dummy felt incredibly insulted by this, and went to try out for a team in Oshkosh instead, who was thrilled to sign him on as a center fielder for $75 per month, and even promised him time off to go take care of the shoe order at home. The Brewers tried to entice him back, but Dummy said he wouldn’t play for them if they gave him a million dollars, because they had tried to cheat him. Honnesty was always very important to Dummy, and he would always tell Umpires the truth, even if it meant that his team didn’t do as well.
Dummy turned out to be an amazingly great ball player. He seemed to have a 6th sense about where the ball would go, stole bases like crazy, and hit tons of home runs. He was the first outfielder to ever throw out three players at the plate in one game, and he lead the league in Putouts, Assists, and he had the highest fielding average in the league. He was the first outfielder to lead in all three categories. In 1888, Dummy reached the major leagues, playing for teams such as the Washington Senators, the Cincinnati Reds, the White Stockings, the White Sox, the Louisville Colonels, the Buffalo Bisons, the Angels, and the St. Louis Browns. He was one of only a handful of players to play in all five major leagues. People used to call him a “Flyhawk” because he would do anything to win the game or get an out for his team.
Though the use of signs in Baseball has been officially credited to Dummy’s deaf contemporary, Ed Dundon, Dummy undoubtedly helped perpetuate it. The signs used for outs and strikes in modern baseball are only slightly different than the modern American Sign Language terms, having been modified slightly to make them easier to see from very far away. His first year in the major leagues, opponents learned quickly that Dummy couldn’t turn his head to lip read the umpire and still be ready to hit the ball. Dummy asked the third base coach if he would lift his left arm if the umpire called a strike and his right arm if the umpire called a ball, eliminating that problem and giving Dummy a very good batting average. Around 1887, Umpires started to incorporate signs into their calls at games where Dummy played, but still using voice calls only at games he was absent from. On long bus rides, Dummy would often teach his teammates to sign, and almost all of them learned to speak some American Sign Language. In fact, often they would all sign amongst each other out in the field during games.
In 1898 Dummy married Anna Lowrey. She was a deaf woman who worked with Helen Keller and was a strong proponent of Oralism. Anna met Alexander Graham Bell in 1892, and he was very impressed with her speaking skills. Dummy and Anna had six children together. Anna taught Dummy to speak, and he knew over 200 words. The most common word he would speak was “Salary” when he wanted to know how much he was going to get paid, and many of his teammates remember him uttering “Rotten” under his breath, when he didn’t like the umpire’s call.
In 1903, Dummy retired from Baseball. He and Anna moved back to Ohio where Dummy became a dairy farmer and invented neat things to help him and Anna live in a hearing world. One invention was a “Doorbell”. When visitors came to the house, they would pull a chain near the door that would drop baseballs on the floor inside. The vibration would tell Dummy and Anna that they had company. In 1924, Dummy sold his dairy business and accepted a managerial position at Goodyear, where he hired many deaf workers during a time when many deaf people were discriminated against.
For years, Dummy always attended the day after opening day of the baseball season, saying that opening day was too crowded for him. The year he turned 99, he was asked to throw out the first pitch at the World Series, which he declined, but agreed to throw out the first pitch of the third game. When he was asked why, he said “too crowded.” He died in 1961, just shy of his 100th birthday. Surprisingly, William “Dummy” Hoy is not in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Lately there’s been a huge push to see him added. His amazing skills and contribution to signing in baseball certainly proves that he deserves to be included. For more information about the quest to see him added, visit http://www.dummyhoy.com/, the official Dummy Hoy Homepage.
“The role of the interpreter is to facilitate the communication between those who do not share the same form of language. It is to help those who are participating in an exchange of communication, but not to become a participant in that process. Because communication is facilitated, the service is hightly valued. But because a non-participant is inserted into the process, this service is also highly intrusive. Interpreters who work with Deaf people need to understand the dichotomy of this double-edged sword they wield. Deaf people want interpreters. They fight for their right to have interpreters. But they clearly have mixed feelings about interpreters. They resent the intrusiveness of the interpreting process. They often resent being shadowed by this non-participant and they often resent the fact that they have to depend on interpreters in the first place. They resent the fact that their privacy is breached by the mere fact of using an interpreter, and they resent the many situations in which interpreters make mistakes, are inadequately prepared for the subject material they are dealing with , and especially when interpreters violate the Code of Ethics, especially when violating their confidentiality. Interpreters often try to assure Deaf consumers that they can open up and share personal or private matters with an assurance of confidentiality, but often the very fact of sharing the information to the interpreter (who is not actually a participant in the situation) feels like a breach of privacy. Perhaps a Deaf person does not want an interpreter who is also a friend to know about private matters or that the Deaf person was involved in a particular situation. Maybe a Deaf person doesn’t want the interpreter to know about being arrested, or filing for bankruptcy, or having an abortion; after all, if the hearing interpreter were involven in any of those situations, the Deaf person wouldn’t have an equal opportunity to know about it. And sadly, too many Deaf consumers have had direct experience with having confidential information spread by the interpreter in what is truly an unforgivable breach of ethics. Interpreters must be absolutely vigilant in resisting any temptation to share other people’s private information, and must remind others of their important duty to respect privacy.
“Interpreters must remember that, when communication barriers arise, we are part of the solution. But we are also part of the problem. We need to maintain the highest ethical and professional standards to ensure that we expand the ways in which we solve problems, and minimize the extent to which we make things worse and actually detract from communication.”
he above is an excerpt from a long page of advice for people thinking about becoming an interpreter, written by Douglas Dunn: http://www.wordwiz72.com/interp/info.html.
To rely on someone you barely know to give you information incredibly important to your life and well-being must be so hard. Even harder, I would imagine, is when you know that person is part of the community you’re a part of and knows many people that you know. Are they going to be ethical and keep their mouth shut? You don’t know, you just have to trust that things will be OK, because you really have no other option.
I’ve decided that I’m starting classes towards an interpreting certificate next fall, and I want to be the best interpreter I can be. So here’s a question: In potentially embarrassing or sensitive situations, would it help if the interpreter shared something embarrassing or sensitive about themselves with their client, or would it just be weird?
Think about the pros really quickly. It might create a shared understanding or bond between the interpreter and the client that would lead to more trust. It might say to the client, “Look, I know this situation isn’t ideal and I want to put us on an equally personal playing field.” At the very least, the client would know that if the interpreter did, for some reason, blab to someone they shouldn’t, they had an equal opportunity for embarrassing the interpreter right back. OK, so that last one is pretty silly, but you get what I’m trying to say.
Then again, it might be really weird. As a hearing person, I don’t want the person I just met to come up and start telling me about the scandalous details of their life, and I would be very uncomfortable if they tried. Especially if we were working together. The last thing a sticky situation needs is more awkwardness.
To be honest, I don’t know if anything could make a personal situation like that any better, and maybe it’s ridiculous to try in such an untraditional way. It was a thought I had that I felt I’d like to share, though. An exchange of information for an exchange of information… seems fair to me.
he flier said “First Come First Served”, so I assumed that meant there wouldn’t be presale tickets. It turned out I was wrong, and they were completely sold out when we got there. It was at the college my mother works at, a magic show by professional magicians (Deafinitely Magic), followed by some fun skits by the ASL students, with professional voice interpreting. My mother agreed to go with me, and I was so excited… Not only to be going, but to have a backup person for moral support. When my husband, Brian, realized there would be voice interpreting, he got excited about going as well. I was absolutely thrilled. I’m required to attent two deaf events this semester, and this was supposed to count as my second one.
The three of us walked through the double glass doors and into the loby of the theater. Tons of people were sitting on old 1980’s style overstuffed chairs, and a few more were sitting at a folding table like a panel of judges. It wasn’t as quiet as you would think a gathering of people who speak ASL would be, as hearing students chatted with their hearing neighbors. It felt like everyone looked up as we walked in, and I instantly felt self consious. I’m fully aware that at this point in my ASL career, my skills are on the bad side of mediocre. Most of the people, returning now to their previous conversations, were young and well dressed, some with children in tow and most with a young significant other by their side. We learned awfully quickly that the people waiting were all people who didn’t have tickets. The event was sold out.
“Yeah, there’s a sign above the door that says Sold Out.” Brian pointed out.
“Oh no!” I exclaimed. I didn’t know what I would do if we couldn’t get in. I would have to go to an intimidating Deaf Event all by myself where I actually had to speak one-on-one with people. I’m scared to do that.
“Well, are they going to be letting people in if people with tickets don’t show?” my mother asked.
“Or standing room only, or something.” I added.
“Why don’t we get in line and find out.” She said, and we got in line.
OK, I told myself, you know the man at the ticket counter will probably be deaf, so you’re on. Instantly, my heart started pounding and I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my veins. NO-TICKETS? MAYBE-YOU-HAVE-TICKETS-LATER? I kept saying to myself over and over, visualizing the signs as the line progressed.
When the three of us got to the front, the man looked at me expectantly. I started to sign.
“No tickets?” I asked him.
“No, I’m sorry,” he told me, “We’re sold out.”
“Maybe, will you have tickets later?” I asked him
“Maybe… I don’t know right now.” he signed.
“OK, should we wait?” I asked again
“Yes, you can wait over there.” he told me
I gave him a big smile (partially of relief that I had made it through – I’ll admit it), and signed “Thank you” as I stepped aside.
“OK, what just happened?” Brian asked me. I told them both about the conversation and they looked impressed. I felt good, too. I know my ASL isn’t wonderful, but another ASL speaker understood what I was saying, and I understood him back. That’s the first time I’ve experienced that outside of class. It was an amazing feeling.
The rest of the 20 minutes we spent waiting were pretty great as well. Some of us students started talking about how far we had driven, and then we started showing each other the new signs we learned that day. I already knew “TICKETS”, but I learned “SOLD OUT” and “WAIT”. I didn’t feel so bad about not getting in when I realized that, even though we had driven far, a lot of other people waiting had driven farther.
I think the most important thing about last Saturday was my epiphany. I had a conversation with a man I never would have been capable of speaking to previously, and it wasn’t that hard. He was really nice to me, and I felt like it was something I could do again. You know, speak to someone I didn’t know in a language I’m not that familiar with. It wasn’t Starbucks, but it was a small step closer. I never did get to see that magic show, so it won’t count as a class assignment. It might be a blessing in disguise, though. I’ll be at my local Panera Bread soon, chatting with my hands.
ohn Brewster was a famous deaf American. I’m going to be putting several of these little bios up because I think it’s just so interesting how people lived and made a name for themselves, hearing and deaf alike. As this is an American Sign Language blog, these people will all be somehow connected with ASL (I know, it’s a novel concept.) I’m starting with John Brewster because he was there at the start, and if anyone has any ideas for other deaf ASL speakers, I would love to have input on who to profile next.
John Brewster Jr. was the grandson of William Brewster, of pilgrim fame, and was the only deaf person in his family. John was born deaf in the year 1766, and probably learned to communicate with his family through “Home Signs”, or signs that have been made up by imediate family and don’t translate to outsiders. His father was a well-known and important physician in his home town, and education was highly emphasized at home. Most of John’s brothers went to medical school like their father. Because John couldn’t go to medical school, he was apprenticed to a famous painter named Joseph Steward, where he learned to paint Folk style portraits. Because John didn’t read or write at this point in time, we don’t really have much record of what he did or how he felt about it, but we can guess.
In the late 1700s- early 18oos, there was a vast network of painters who would roam the countryside and paint likenesses of the upper middle class, the rich, and their families. Because these painters often hadn’t been to formal art schools, they charged a lot less for their paintings than portrait painters in Europe did. While these paintings weren’t exact realistic copies of everyday life, they served to give people a stylistic snapshot of their family before the snapshot was invented. There was an actual circuit that many painters traveled, visiting the same towns and staying in the same hotels. While we know that John traveled this circuit a little bit, generally he preferred to stay in the familiar territory of Southern Maine and Massachusetts.
As soon as John gained a little notoriety, he began to be commissioned to paint the likenesses of certain families. He would stay with that family for a few days, paint everyone in the house, and run an advertisement in the local paper to attract more clientele while he was in town. Sometimes, instead of staying with the family he was painting, John would stay with friends in the same area. It’s thought that his friends would write the advertisements out for him and deliver them to the local paper, because John couldn’t write, and the advertisements were frequently inconsistent. Sometimes they touted John as a deaf curiosity – his paintings are so great that you would never believe he was deaf. Other times there’s no mention of his deafness at all, but only the quality of his work. It’s thought that he used some combination of limited writing and pantomime to work out with his clients the poses they wanted and his fees. We know by the sheer volume of clients and his growing local fame that he had no insurmountable problems communicating with the people he painted.
John was considered one of the top painters in New England at this time, and his paintings read like a who’s who of the region for four decades. Many of his paintings show unrealistic perspectives, with children being taller than trees and mountains in the background and other scenes not appearing quite right. Whether this was by design or not, we can’t tell. He was very well known for painting wild-haired children in gauzy nightgowns with serious expressions, but also painted many somber men and women in dark clothing. We know that he would do smaller paintings of people from the chest up for a smaller fee, and it’s believed that at one point he painted canvases of a bunch of bodies without heads and then added the heads of his clients to the pre-painted picture for an even smaller fee. These chest-up paintings are some of John’s best work, as there are no odd perspectives, and his ability to paint expressions is impressive.
In 1817, the Connecticut Asylum for the Education and Instruction of Deaf and Dumb Persons, later known as the American School for the Deaf, opened in Hartford Connecticut. Among the seven students in the first class was John Brewster. The average age of the other students was 19, while John was 51. For the first time in his life, John learned to read and write, and also to communicate in sign language with other deaf people. He finally got the education that was so important to his family. John stayed several years at the school, longer than the actual course he took, and we assume by this that he was enjoying being in a community of people he could communicate with. When John left the school in 1820, he didn’t keep in touch with anyone he met at school. While this may seem strange, he probably didn’t really have a lot in common with the other students who were so much younger than he was. John went right back into the hearing world and continued painting as he had before. His paintings after he attended the school seem to have a greater emphasis on the eyes of the sitter, and less attention is given to the background.
1n 1837, the Daguerreotype was invented and many folk painters lost their source of income. Photos were less expensive and more realistic than portraiture ever could be. Like so many artists of the time, John found it harder and harder to find clients. In the late 1830s, John moved in with his brother and best friend in Buxton, Maine, where all record of his life ends. We do know he spent the rest of his life in a family home surrounded by nieces and nephews. John died in 1854, and is buried in Buxton.
John Brewster lived most of his life in a hearing world with no structured way to communicate with those around him, even other deaf people. Though his life must have been hard at times, he left behind hundreds of beautiful paintings that show us how his intelligence and attention to detail made him great.