When Edward Bannister stepped to the stage at Philadelphia’s Centennial Exposition to accept a bronze medal for his monumental painting Under the Oaks, he sent shock waves through the crowd that watched.
They did not expect to see a black man.
The judges were flabbergasted. They decided to take away his prize and give it to someone else. The other artists threatened to withdraw their work when they heard about it, so the judges relented and gave Edward Bannister his bronze medal.
From then on, Edward Bannister was in demand as an artist. Working out of Providence, R.I., he prospered for the first time in his life. He could even afford a sailboat, from which he painted seascapes. He was well known and well respected by the Rhode Island art community and beyond.
He owed it all to his wife.
Edward Bannister was born in 1828 in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, and moved to New England as a young man. He got a job as a hairdresser in Boston, working in one of several salons owned by a woman named Christiana Carteaux.. She was an independent businesswoman of mixed Native American and African American heritage. She called herself a ‘hair doctress’ and owned hair salons in Boston and Worcester.
Edward Bannister married Christiana Carteaux in 1857. She told him to quit his job and focus on his art. He had been painting landscapes and portraits that were displayed at the Boston Art Club, though he’d never had a formal lesson. He and Christina lived and worked with Lewis Hayden, an African-American leader of the abolitionist movement. In 1864, Christiana raised money for the Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts Regiment of black soldiers. Edward painted a portrait of the regiment’s leader, Col. Robert Gould Shaw. (Sadly, the portrait has been lost.)
The Bannisters moved to Providence after the Civil War. Christiana opened another salon and supported the arts. Edward started the Providence Art Club across from the First Baptist Church founded by Roger Williams.
After his success at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876, the Edward and Christiana Bannister lived a good life. They spent summers at a cottage on Narragansett Bay, sailed [s2If !is_user_logged_in()]
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[s2If current_user_can(access_s2member_level0)]in their sloop Fanchon and act in community theater. Christiana founded the Home for Aged and Colored Woman, now Bannister Nursing Care Center in Providence.
Bannister died of a heart attack on Jan. 9, 1901 at a prayer meeting at the Elmwood Avenue Free Baptist Church. Christiana died the next year and was buried next to her husband. Edward Bannister’s friends in the art community created a headstone for him, a large rock with a palette that said, “Friends of this pure and lofty sold, freed from the form which lies beneath the sod, have placed this stone to mark the grave of him, who while he portrayed nature, walked with God.”
A bust of Christiana was dedicated at the Rhode Island Statehouse in 2002.[/s2If]