In 1854 Gleason's Pictorial, the popular, nationally circulated magazine out of Boston, published an article promoting the lavish "Daguerrian Gallery" established in Cincinnati by James P. Ball (Fig. 6), lauding his images as "unsurpassed by any in the Union."1 In fact, Ball's Gallery (see Figs. 2, 4) was not so unusual. Mathew Brady's popular and equally elaborate establishment had flourished in New York since 1844. Yet Ball's Gallery was, in the eyes of the eastern press, exemplary of the cultural advancement of Cincinnati, a city that when Ball began a decade earlier was "in a very low state indeed." The fact that this major national voice credited Ball with arousing "a spirit in the profession which has...brought within so short a time the Daguerrean art to so much perfection"2 aroused considerable interest.
The story only obliquely alluded to the fact that Ball was a "free colored person," in the polite parlance of the period, mentioning that his "struggles were many and great." Seizing the opportunity to promote the work of a free black artist, a number of abolitionist and black publications also ran the story.3
Gleason's article also featured another Cincinnati artist of color, the landscape painter Robert S. Duncanson (Fig. 5). The article referred to Duncanson by his last name only-perhaps on the assumption that the magazine's readership would be familiar with him. It mentioned that his paintings such as The Shepherd Boy (Fig. 1) hung on the walls of Ball's Gallery and that they ranked "among the richest productions of American artists." Working next door to each other on fashionable Fourth Street in the central business district Duncanson and Ball were at the heart of Cincinnati's cultural life; the painters James Henry Beard, John Cranch, Godfrey Frankenstein, and the Academy of Design were all within walking distance. By 1850 Duncanson had formed part of a triumvirate of Ohio River valley artists with William L. Sonntag and T. Worthington Whittredge. Together they crafted a distinctive regional branch of the national landscape painting movement. Duncanson had also executed a monumental suite of landscape murals for the estate of Nicholas Longworth (1782-1863), one of Cincinnati's prominent citizens, who praised the artist as "one of our most promising painters."4 After Sonntag and Whittredge left for New York, Duncanson was the sole bearer of the standard for landscape painting in the region. In 1861 the Cincinnati Daily Gazette acknowledged Duncanson's position, writing that he had "long enjoyed the enviable reputation of being the best landscape painter in the West."5
Gleason's and the other periodicals that ran the "Daguerrian Gallery"story heralded the cultural growth of Cincinnati as evidence that American civilization was demonstrably progressing over the western wilderness. This was not hyperbole; a unique confluence of economic, political, and social factors in Cincinnati made it possible for Duncanson and Ball to assume prominent cultural positions in the city and to attract other African-American artists, establishing an active and prosperous enclave of free colored artists.