A native of the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, Frederick W. Mayhew was born in Chilmark on 6 July 1785. Although Mayhew has been known for some time through his works, several of them signed, the biographical details of his life eluded scholars until recently. Difficulty arose from his misidentification as Nathaniel Mayhew and confusion with other Frederick Mayhews from both Martha's Vineyard and mainland Massachusetts.
Mayhew married Zelinda Tilton on 10 April 1802; the couple's one child was born in 1812. He and his wife moved to Morgan (now Noble) County, Ohio, to join some of Zelinda's relatives after 1830. Mayhew died on 17 October 1854 and is buried in the Tilton family cemetery in Cambridge, Ohio.
Mayhew's known works are all portraits dating from his years on Martha's Vineyard, where island lore holds that he mixed Gay Head clay with dogfish oil to make his paint. He may have painted landscapes after moving to Ohio; the History of Noble County describes him as a landscape painter and a sailor. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Hill, Joyce. "Cross Currents: Faces, Figureheads and Scrimshaw Fancies." The Clarion (Spring/Summer 1984): 25-32.
Stoddard, Doris C. "Frederick Mayhew, Limner: Chilmark's Little Known Artist." The Dukes County Intelligencer (August 1986): 10-17.
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: 254-255.