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etty G. Miller was born in 1934, and her parents were both Deaf. Betty had two older brothers who were hearing, so everyone just assumed that Betty was too, especially because she could clearly hear a little bit. It was a surprise to everyone in her family when she attended Kindergarten for the first time and was diagnosed as Hard of Hearing. This threw her family for a loop. Remembering all the prejudice and oppression they had experienced at the hands of hearing people, Betty’s parents decided that they wanted her to make the most use of whatever hearing she had. This is why they made the surprising decision to send her to Bell School in Chicago – a school known for Oralistic practices. Later, Betty’s parents took her out of Bell School and switched her into a regular mainstream school. But the mainstream school didn’t have speech therapy, so Betty went to still another school in the evenings to be tutored in speech.
Betty did the best she could at these schools, and was a very successful student. She got her degree in Art Education from Pennsylvania State University , but it wasn’t until she started to teach at Gallaudet University that things seemed to click for her. She finally felt the sense of belonging that she had missed out on in her mainstream school career. Betty’s art focused completely on the Deaf experience, depicting the oppression Deaf people face at the hands of hearing, and also exhibiting the joy of sign that can be found throughout the Deaf community. Many of her paintings depict puppet-like deaf people – no doubt a response to all her speech therapy classes. Artwork that focused entirely on the Deaf experience was an entirely new form of artwork in the 1970’s, and came to be called “Deaf View/Image Art.” Or De’VIA Betty was one of the early pioneers of this form of art.
Betty’s first one woman show took place at Gallaudet University in 1972, entitled “The Silent World”. It was so successful, that throughout the 1970s’, she continued to have shows frequently at Gallaudet. They were all very well received. This spurred a series of one woman shows throughout the 1980’s and ‘90’s, and also many collaborative shows with other Deaf artists. In 1993, Betty put on a showcase of eight Deaf artists, which was the largest collection of De’VIA that had ever taken place.
After 13 years of teaching at Gallaudet, Betty decided it was time to move on. After a time touring around the country putting on shows, she became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor – the first Deaf person to ever do so. This has allowed her to have a rewarding career helping other Deaf people overcome serious addiction problems, and also educating other Drug and Alcohol counselors on how best to work with Deaf people. She has published a book about her and others experiences entitled “Deaf and Sober: Journeys Through Recovery” which she has both authored and illustrated.
Betty is currently in her 80’s. Unfortunately, she has suffered from some memory loss and doesn’t create art very often anymore. When she does, it’s usually in Neon – a medium she discovered in the late 1990’s. Still, her pioneering efforts in the field of De’VIA will always be remembered as some of the greatest contributions of the 20th century art world. Without Betty, the world would be a little less bright and a little less Deaf-aware.
ranville Redmond was born on March 9th, 1871. At the age of two, he contracted Scarlett Fever and became deaf. His parents wanted him to have every opportunity possible, so they moved the family out to California so he could attend the California School for the Deaf, in Berkley. As soon as Granville entered an art class, it was certain what his profession would be. He was extremely gifted in just about all aspects of art, and studied pantomime, sculpture, drawing and painting. Granville was so talented at painting that his teacher, Theophilus d’Estrella, encouraged him to apply to the California School of Design in San Francisco. He was accepted almost immediately
Granville’s years at the California School of Design were marked by success. He won the famous W. E. Brown Medal of Excellence and was hailed as one of the top students in the school. Perhaps most importantly he met Gottardo Piazzoni, another student at the school. The two became fast friends and remained so for the rest of their lives, Gottardo learning to sign so the two could communicate better.
After three years at the California School of Design, the California School for the Deaf decided that Granville was so talented they wanted to sponsor him to attend an art school in Paris. Granville enrolled at the Academie Julien in Paris with several other students who were sponsored by the California School for the Deaf, including his roommate, Douglas Tilden. Granville’s time at the Paris school was also successful for him, and culminated in his painting, Matin d’hivre, being accepted into the world famous Paris Salon in 1895.
When he returned from Paris, Granville decided to settle in Los Angeles. There he fell in love with the beaches, and started painting many of the ocean scenes he’s best known for. He also fell in love with a deaf woman named Carrie Ann Jean. The two were married in 1899 and had three children. To make ends meet, Granville often worked as an illustrator for various periodicals, and painted scenes for the Santa Fe Railroad. The family moved several times during this period, living in San Mateo, Tiburon, and Parkfield. This gave Granville more and more material for his paintings and by 1905 he was known as the leading California landscape painter. His impressionistic California landscapes were often compared to artists such as Monet and Pizarro.
Although his painting career was going well, Granville was fascinated by the movies. All movies being made were silent at this time, so Granville’s deafness was not an obstacle, and he suspected that with his background in pantomime he could make a great movie star. Granville moved back to Los Angeles in 1917 to pursue an acting career. Shortly after his move, he met Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin was fascinated by Granville’s abilities and the two eventually became friends. Chaplin asked Granville to teach him to sign, and in return Granville was given a bit part in the movie A Dog’s Life. Granville did such a great job that he often appeared in Chaplin’s films after that. Even better, Chaplin arranged for Granville to set up a painting studio on the movie studio lot. In his spare time, Granville also liked to travel to Laguna Beach to paint outdoors.
Granville died in Hollywood on May 24, 1935. He will always be known for his paintings featuring the rolling hills of California dotted by wildflowers, the moody colors of sunsets and moonlit waters, and beautiful brown vignettes of trees. His work is featured in museums across America and is still widely popular. Just before he died, Granville stated: “The highest tribute paid to an artist is the reflection of man’s noblest work – to inspire.” Granville’s life was wealth of artistic experiences. His vision will always live on in the inspiration he has been giving future artists for generations.
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.