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Rufus Porter, Rediscovered

December 2023
1min read


by Jean Lipman
Clarkson N. Potter
124 illustrations, 22 in color
198 pages, $16.95

If a Renaissance man could be crossed with a Yankee egalitarian, Rufus Porter would be the result. And if he hadn’t been such a washout as a businessman, his name would be familiar to us all. Porter could do anything—play music, dance, draw, paint, teach, write, or invent anything that the raw, new 19th-century society he lived in seemed to need. The repeating rifle that made Samuel Colt rich was his design (the company bought his patent for one hundred dollars); and he drew up sophisticated plans for a dirigible but could never raise the money to build it. He also was the founder of, among other less durable magazines, Scientific American .

That we know as much about him as we do is due to Jean Lipman’s persistence. Primarily interested in his painting—strong, fresh portraits and graceful, usually unsigned wall murals—she has spent forty years tracing his life and work. In 1968, Lipman published a biography of Porter, and she now has revised and added to it. This handsome book acquaints us with both the life and the art of an astonishing and delightful American.

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