Alaska Artists: Vincent Colyer

lonely caribou in Alakan Nature

As conservationists and people who care deeply for animals and wildlife, we created Alaskan Nature to  provide educational information about the flora and fauna of the great state of Alaska. With both our written information and our stunning photos, Alaskan Nature hopes to inspire people in appreciating and understand the true beauty of Alaska Nature.

Landscape painter Vincent Colyer, born in Bloomingdale, New York, earned a reputation as a serious artist as well as skilled government official.  He is noted for the images he created of the American West, especially Indian subjects, landscapes, and botanical specimens.  In the Eastern United States, he became a noted crayon-portrait artist.

Born in New York, Vincent Colyer spent the majority of his life traveling the United States. Vincent Colyer grew up in a Quaker family. His faith was the center of his life and the inspiration for many of his activities. In the 1840s, Colyer decided to dedicate his life to art and studied at the National Academy of Design under John R. Smith. He became an associate member of the National Academy in 1849. From then until the Civil War he painted in New York City.

The artist served in the medical corps during the United States Civil War, and was later appointed a U.S. Indian Commissioner. During the war, Colyer founded and served with the United States Christian Commission. As superintendent of the poor in New Bern, North Carolina under General Ambrose Burnside, he wrote the Report of the Services Rendered by the Freed People to the United States Army in North Carolina, in the Spring of 1862, After the Battle of Newbern (1864). With the government decision in 1863 to allow black troops to fight, Colyer began to recruit and train the men for the United States Colored Troops. He also served with the Indian commission.

From the late 1860s to early 1870s, Colyer traveled extensively to the West and Alaska, sketching the vast landscape. He represented Friends of the Indians, a Quaker organization that was concerned with the humanitarian treatment of the native inhabitants in government custody. While he did not paint Indian portraits, his sketches reveal some of the earliest forts in Indian Territory and in the Southwest.

Vincent Colyer advocated the establishment of reservations for the Apache, Yavapai, and neighboring tribes in New Mexico and Arizona to improve their living conditions. This effort earned him the strong opposition of white mining, cattle and agricultural interests, and his mission ended in failure. His humanitarian work continued in 1869, when he surveyed conditions among natives of the just-acquired Alaska Territory on behalf of the newly created Board of Indian Commissioners (an advisory group of philanthropists and humanitarians who studied Indian conditions and made recommendations to the commissioner of Indian affairs).

Colyer's 1869 report is important because of its thoroughness, its presumptions, and, most particularly, its influence for more than a decade on officials concerned with the government's response to Alaska natives.  Colyer recommended the Federal government fund Indian schools in Alaska as well as provide medical care, a proposal endorsed by the Commissioner of Indian Affairs but rejected by Congress. Instead, partly due to Colyer's efforts, Congress approved money for education, to be spent through the Interior Department's Bureau of Education. This reduced the influence of the government's Indian agencies, which tended to establish more paternalistic relationships with Indians.

In Alaska in 1869, he made numerous watercolor sketches, many incorporating weather phenomena. That year he is thought to have sketched 15 views of Oregon and the Washington Territory. When Colyer returned east and established his studio in Connecticut, he produced a small number of oil paintings of Western scenes in 1872-1875. They were prominently exhibited at the time, including at the Centennial Exposition of 1876.

Johnny AculiakEdwin Tappan Adney| George Twok Aden AhgupukAlvin Eli Amason| Saradell Ard|   Belmore Browne| Vincent ColyerJules Bernard DahlagerLockwood De Forest| Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh| William Franklin Draper| | Henry Wood Elliott| John Fehringer| Claire Fejes| Louis Agassiz Fuertes| Magnus Colcord Heurlin| Norman Jackson| Rockwell Kent| Sydney Mortimer Laurence| Fred Machetanz| Marvin Mangus| Milo Minock| James Kivetoruk Moses| Rie MunozJoseph Henry Sharp| James Everett Stuart| John Webber| Kesler Woodward|


Vincent Colyer painting of alsaksa nature

Vincent Coyler water of the Kodiak state house

Alaska's Tribes:

Below is a full list of the different Alaska Native cultures. Within each culture are many different tribes.

Learn more about Alaskan tribes

Aleut Athabascan Eyak
Haida Inuit Tlingit
Tsimshian Yupik