Letter to the Editor: OSA students learn from 19th century painter, inventor, founder

Grade 5 students at Old Sturbridge Academy have the very rare opportunity to enjoy museum-quality art while studying in the Oliver Wight Tavern. One of the rooms which has now been converted to a classroom has a mural painted by the prolific early American painter Rufus M. Porter.

Rufus M. Porter wasan American painter, inventor, and founder of Scientific American magazine. He became a prolific muralist between 1825 and 1845, decorating some 160 houses and inns across New England. He specialized in painted scenes of entire towns or harbors. His murals were generally painted on a large scale on dry plaster walls by a combination of freehand painting and stenciling. Some murals were in full color, others in monochrome, with the foliage sometimes stamped in with a cork stopper instead of being painted with a brush.

Students at OSA can also take inspiration from Rufuses’ engineering feats. He built a portable camera obscura that let him make silhouette portraits in less than 15 minutes. He also experimented with a wind-powered gristmill, a washing machine, a corn sheller, a fire alarm, and a rope-making machine, He invented clocks, railway signals, churns, a distance measuring appliance, a horsepower mechanism, a churn, a life preserver, a cheese press, and a revolving rifle. In 1849 Porter planned to build an 800-foot steam-powered airship with accommodations for 50 to 100 passengers, aiming to convey miners to the California Gold Rush. Unfortunately on Thanksgiving Day, rowdy visitors tore the hydrogen bag and destroyed it. Students at Old Sturbridge Academy are literally surrounded by inspiration in both the arts and sciences.

—Jason Drinkwater,
Old Sturbridge Academy English Language Instructor/Coordinator


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