Edward Hicks1780 - 1849
Born: April 4, 1780, Attleborough (now Langhorne), Pennsylvania
Died: August 23, 1849, Newtown, Pennsylvania
Edward Hicks is recognized as one of America's most significant early "folk art" painters. A devout Quaker for much of his life, his native and stylized compositions resulted from his dedication to his faith.
When Hicks was born in the small Bucks County, Pennsylvania, village then called Four Lanes End (later Attleborough, and now Langhorne) in the spring of 1780, the American Revolutionary War was about to tear his family apart. His grandfather, Gilbert Hicks, had held the royalist position of prothonotary of Bucks County, and had already fled northward (eventually to Nova Scotia) at the outbreak of the war. Edward's father Isaac would soon also flee, to New York City, due to a royal appointment in local government that he felt threatened his safety.
While Isaac was in New York, however, Catherine "Kitty" Hicks, mother of Edward and his two older siblings, died. Following his wife's death, Isaac returned to Bucks County in 1783 to be with his children, but was certainly not welcome to regain any role in government there, as he was hoping to do. Under these unfortunate circumstances, the elder Hicks placed each of his three children in a different foster home in the Newtown area; the three-year-old Edward was taken by family friends Elizabeth and David Twining, who were Quakers. Hicks later joined the Quaker faith, and his affiliation profoundly affected his life and work.
Around the time Hicks turned thirteen, his father believed it was time for him to leave the Twining house and begin an apprenticeship. Henry and William Tomlinson took him on to work in their coach-building shop in Four Lanes End, and he stayed there until he was twenty years old in April of 1800. Hicks left his apprenticeship skilled in the use of paint and varnish, but not physically strong enough to be a wheelwright. Consequently, he spent the next few months working mainly as a house painter, and by 1801, Hicks had gone into business for himself as a painter of everything from signs and coaches to clock faces and milk buckets. He was earning money at a steady rate during this period, but his strong desire to become a Quaker and get married within the Quaker faith soon caused him to give up his employment. Painting was considered to represent vanity and frivolity among Quakers at the time, and Hicks did not want to appear unworthy to the family of the young Quaker woman, Sarah Worstall, whom he was courting. When Hicks married Worstall in November 1803, he was almost penniless. He borrowed money the next year to build a small house for his wife and newborn daughter in the town of Milford (now Hulmeville), falling into debt that would plague him for most of his life.
By 1812 Hicks had become a Quaker minister in his home meeting (congregation), called Middletown Meeting, near Attleborough, and was soon preaching throughout Eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. Friends helped him keep his debt at a relatively manageable level for a time because they felt his chosen, but unpaid, career was valuable to the community, and Hicks had no other respectable means to support his family. Hicks briefly tried his hand at farming on his father's land, but he lost money on the venture. Finally some of the Friends in his meeting approached him about resuming his painting; as long as he pursued his work "within the bounds of innocence and usefulness," the concerned worshipers did not feel there was anything wrong with Hicks employing himself this way in order to provide for his family. Rather reluctantly, Hicks returned to painting signs and domestic items shortly after this time.
Following an extended preaching tour through New York State and into Canada in 1820, Hicks again returned home to his family, his meeting and his painting. At this point, he also took a paying position ($20 a year) as the custodian of the Newtown Meetinghouse. By the period of 1823-25, Hicks discovered that painting imagery related to messages he was often preaching proved pious, yet undeniably lucrative. Copying from an engraving of a drawing by British artist Richard Westall that appeared in many American Bibles, Hicks began depicting the interpretation of Isaiah 11:6 in oil on panel complete with the words to the prophecy lettered around the picture's edges. Calling his renditions The Peaceable Kingdom of the Branch, Hicks also looked to other contemporary sources for inspiration on features to include in these compositions. Unlike Westall's image, Hicks patriotically related his Peaceable Kingdoms to the still-young America by setting scenes of William Penna's treaty with the Native Americans and the Natural Bridge in Virginia in the backgrounds of his paintings.
Hicks painted scores of Peaceable Kingdom panels and canvases until his death in 1849, and intermittently painted other religious, patriotic, and agrarian images throughout the later years of his career. As time progressed, the Peaceable Kingdom paintings became less naturalistic on the whole, with many of the familiar creatures in the foreground becoming more and more stylized.