Date of Award

Spring 1991

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Robert M Mennel


As a Special Artist (newspaper illustrator) for papers such as the New York Daily Graphic and Harper's Weekly, author and illustrator of numerous guidebooks, and astute recorder of Philadelphia, Frank Hamilton Taylor left a unique visual and written record of late nineteenth, early twentieth century American life. His work provided the growing, increasingly literate urban middle class with information about their country from the excitement of the Centennial Exposition to the tragedy of lives lost at sea. In addition, Taylor's documentation of leisure pursuits, particularly in the Thousand Islands area of New York, helped define what constituted recreation for the expanding non-manual work force who sought escape from the regiment of daily life. And his Philadelphia series of watercolors and wash drawings provide an almost microscopic view of the urban environment, capturing the city's ethos.

Gifted artists, Specials like Taylor went beyond the mere recording of facts. They invested those facts with charm and spirit. Their portrayal of the American scene, and fascination with the country's diversity, foreshadowed important shifts in American art as the historic symbols of Europe were no longer requisite. The growing outdoor movement also owed a dept to the Special Artist who made Americans aware and proud of the country's incomparable landscape.

The images of the Special Artist, besides informing, could also be a powerful persuasive tool. Taylor's documentation for Harper's Weekly of Ulysses S. Grant's trip to Florida, Cuba, and Mexico in 1880 for example shows a commanding, decisive figure. Exactly the perception Grant's political advisors wanted in order to distance the former president from his scandal-ridden administration, and allow him to seek a third Republican party nomination. Taylor's tourist guidebooks, often done for the country's burgeoning railroads were arguably equally manipulative, describing where the railroads wanted people to vacation, not just popular tourist destinations.

Taylor represents the skilled Special Artist whose contributions to American art, journalism, and the development of American culture have been undervalued. His sketches, watercolors, and engravings are important primary research documents. And his life is a three-dimensional representation of the Gilded Age values he recorded on paper.