Discover the man who helped change the course of art education and become a founding instructor of the Rhode Island School of Design.

“Landscape” by Edward Mitchell Bannister from the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Edward Mitchell Bannister’s Artistic Journey

You can download our FREE PowerPoint Lesson on this artist here.

Edward Mitchell Bannister (1828 – 1901) made significant contributions to art and art education, and yet he is largely unknown today.

As a Black artist, Bannister often faced extraordinary obstacles to obtain high quality instruction, exhibition spaces, and other career opportunities due to widespread discriminatory policies.

In 1867, the New York Herald ran an especially atrocious article about Black artists, and one phrase particularly caught artist Edward Mitchel Bannister’s attention:
“[…] the negro has an appreciation for art while being manifestly unable to produce it.” – New York Herald, 1867

This article inspired Bannister to pursue art at the highest levels. He aggressively studied drawing and painting in private studios in Boston at the famous Boston Studio Building, as well as the Lowell Institute, an outreach education program run by Harvard.

Bannister’s sketch for the now lost painting, Under the Oaks
In 1876 Bannister entered one of the most prestigious competitions in the world for artists in the 1870’s – the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. He won 1st prize for his now-lost painting Under the Oaks. When the prize committee discovered Bannister was Black, there was talk of revoking the 1st place prize. However, the other artists insisted that the committee keep to its selection and the exhibit became a powerful rebuke of the New York Herald article’s assumptions about the abilities of Black artists.

​Despite Bannister’s incredible success, he was originally blocked from entering the art exhibit where his 1st place painting was displayed. According to historian David C. Driskill, it was

​“not until [Bannister] identified himself as the painter of Under the Oaks was he admitted [into the exhibition].”
Bannister continued forging a successful pathway as an artist throughout his life, and eventually became a founding member of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). RISD was widely regarded as one of the most prestigious art schools in the country during his lifetime, and is still well-known to this day. The university a lasting testament to Bannister’s vision and educational legacy.

Mandy Theis is a licensed art teacher and Director of the School of Atelier Arts. You can follow her on Instagram @mandyfineartist.

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​​What are the twists and turns in your art education journey? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.


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