Reason, Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry Reason
Engraver, lithographer, abolitionist, and fraternal order leader were roles Patrick Henry Reason filled during the 1800s. His artistic pieces often depicted the brutality of slavery. As an African American, he expressed his frustration regarding the oppression of slaves through his art. He became well known to the public and was listed within several documents for his creative designs.
Reason was born in April 1817 in New York City to Michael and Elizabeth Reason. His father was a native of Saint Anne Island, Guadeloupe, and his mother was from Saint-Dominique. Reason was one of four children; he had two brothers and one sister. Sadly, his sister Policarpe died in 1818 at age four.
Reason was recognized as an artist at an early age. His first engraving was made at the African Free School in New York where he was a student. He was only thirteen years old, but people were fascinated with his design. However, he was apprenticed to a white printmaker, Stephen Henry Gimber, shortly after his frontispiece and the death of his father. Reason soon established his own studio at 148 Church Street in New York, where he offered a wide variety of engraving services. His career was successful, and he was one of the earliest African American printmakers.
Along with being an artist, Reason often gave talks on fine arts. On July 4, 1837, Reason delivered a speech on the philosophy of fine arts to the Phoenixonian Literary Society in New York. A newspaper article described the speech as ably written, well delivered, and well researched. A year later, Reason won first prize for his India ink drawing exhibited at the Mechanics Institute Fair. He then began to offer his services to the public community. His engraving services included address, visiting, and business cards, certificates, and jewelry. He gave close attention to his neatness. His advertisements classified him as a historical, portrait and landscape engraver, a draughtsman, and lithographer. In addition, he offered evening instruction based upon scientific methods of drawing. He also worked for Harpers Publishers preparing map plates along with government engraving. From 1846 to 1866, Reason was listed as a "col'd" (colored) engraver in New York City directories.
Reason conveyed his beliefs through his art. He is considered an abolitionist because he objected to the unfair treatment and injustice of African Americans. He used his artistic gift to reveal his feelings about slavery. For instance, he often carved copper engravings of chained slaves. Reason also displayed his spirituality through his works such as engravings of men kneeling down with hands poised in prayer. His work was admired by many which led him to produce portraits and designs for periodicals and frontispieces in slave narratives in the mid-nineteenth century. Unfortunately, white engravers refused to work with him, and firms often refused to hire him.
On June 22, 1862, Reason married Esther Cunningham of Leeds, England. They had one son, Charles. Shortly after the marriage, the couple left New York with their young son and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Several firms had invited Reason to work as an engraver with them in Cleveland. Reason spent more than fifteen years working with the jewelry firm of Sylvester Hogan. Hogan was a wholesale and retail dealer in fine jewelry and silver plate. Unlike the New York directories, the Cleveland directories until 1899 listed Reason as an engraver.
Reason belonged to the New York Philomathean Society; it was organized in 1830 for literary improvement and social pleasure. Along with others, Reason organized an Odd Fellows Lodge, an organization committed to assist its members in cases of sickness and death. Unfortunately, the Philomathean Society refused their application for a dispensation. However, they were granted a dispensation from another lodge number. His membership gave him the opportunity to design and engrave the first certificate of membership for the Odd Fellows. He was also active in the New York Masons.
Reason was diagnosed with carcinoma of the rectum. He suffered from the disease for a long time and eventually died at home in Cleveland on August 12, 1898, when he was eighty-two years old. He was survived by his wife Esther and son Charles.
- Born in New York City; baptized on April 17 in the Church of St. Peter
- Sister Policarpe dies at age four
- First engraving is published, the frontispiece to Charles Andrews's The History of the New York African Free-Schools
- Apprenticed for four years to Stephen Henry
- Gains interest in portraiture
- Delivers a speech, "Philosophy of the Fine Arts," to the Phoenixonian Literary Society in New York on July 4
- Wins first premium (prize) for his India ink drawing exhibited at the Mechanics Institute Fairs
- Appears in the New York City directories as a "col'd" engraver
- Marries Esther Cunningham of Leeds, England on June 22
- Leaves New York with wife and young son Charles; moves to Cleveland, Ohio
- Works for the Sylvester Hogan jewelry firm
- Dies in Cleveland on August 12
Gates, Henry Louis Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds. African American Lives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Lewis, Samella. African American Art and Artists. Berkeley: Star Type, 2003.
Logan, Rayford W., and Michael R. Winston, eds. Dictionary of American Negro Biography. New York: Norton, 1982.