Linton Park, the ninth and last child of John and Mary (Lang) Park, was born on 16 November 1826 in Marion (now Marion Center), a small town in western Pennsylvania which was originally settled in 1799 by Park's grandfather. Little is known about Linton Park's early life, but it is generally assumed that he worked in his father's gristmill as a youth. There is also evidence that he spent some time in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1854 and in Altoona in 1856. Family tradition and his four paintings of logging scenes indicate that he was involved in the lumber industry, perhaps building or crewing logging rafts.
In 1863, Park was in Washington and descendants report that he helped paint the Capitol, which was completed that year. In 1864 he entered the Union army as a private and was assigned to the presidential guard and burial detail. Honorably discharged from the service in 1865, Linton Park apparently remained in Washington, since a letter from his nephew, John Park Barbour, relates that "Uncle Linton is again in Government employment and lives in an old loft by himself as hermit-like as ever."
In 1868 Park returned to Marion, where he would spend the rest of his life. He and his brother opened a planing mill in Marion, which, although small, was a commercially active town. Park, who listed himself as a painter in city tax records and directories, was also known to have painted signs, wagons, and furniture. He was well known for his eccentric personality and frequently bizarre behavior.
Like the New England artist Rufus Porter (1792-1884), Park was also an inventor. In 1873 he patented "improved ventilating blinds" similar to venetian blinds, which won first prize at the centennial exhibition in Philadelphia. He also invented a type of hat rack, a vegetable peeler (the artist was a strict vegetarian), and a device he called a feather renovator, for cleaning the feather stuffing used in pillows and mattresses. An 1896 business directory indicates he also made "house decorations," which may refer to moldings used for interior architectural elements or picture frames.
While Park probably saw the paintings in the Capitol when in Washington, there is no record that he received any artistic instruction. Descendants, however, believe he was given "some help" by an area artist. They also report that he did not begin painting until the latter part of his life, and what little evidence we have concerning the dates of his paintings seems to confirm this information. The National Gallery's Flax Scutching Bee (1953.5.26) was exhibited at the 1885 Indiana County (Pennsylvania) Fair, and two of his logging pictures were shown at an 1899 county fair, indicating the paintings were probably executed around those dates. In addition, a local newspaper reported that Park was working on a painting of the 1889 Johnstown flood, which was to be sold to benefit the survivors (now unlocated).
A 1904 fire in the studio Park had set up in an old creamery in Marion destroyed all of his possessions, and soon afterwards the artist entered the Soldiers' and Sailors' Home in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he died in 1906. While there is no record of how many, if any, paintings were destroyed by fire, only thirteen of his works are known today. The locations of two of these are unknown. Of the located works, six are executed on bed ticking. Linton Park's paintings first received widespread public notice in a 1939 article in Antiques magazine. Since then, frequent exhibition of his masterpiece Flax Scutching Bee has kept him in the public eye and assured his reputation, despite the small number of works attributed to his hand. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published, or to be published, in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Griffith, J. Neal. Linton Park: American Primitive. Indiana, Pennsylvania, 1982.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 265-266.