The Arts and Crafts ideals of painter Frederick Oaks Sylvester were used throughout his career to document the Mississippi River. In fact, many of his admirers see his work culminating in the book of poems he wrote in 1911 about the river, which was illustrated with photographic plates of his paintings.
He had trained as an art teacher at the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston, and then taken another year as a student teacher at Newcomb College in New Orleans. It was here that he acquired his technical expertise and became immersed in the American Arts and Crafts Movement, which was a strong component of the Newcomb School's curriculum.
As a deeply religious person and one remarkably fond of nature, the tenets of the movement worked in conjunction with his personal beliefs - that there is a strong unity between art and life. He would explore the river, its landscapes, towns and cities first from New Orleans and then in St. Louis, where he relocated in 1892. A year later he would move again, to Illinois where he would eventually buy a home that looked over the river he loved.
Originally, Sylvester would capture more industrial and urban scenes, as well as bridges, but later he would find deeper meaning in the bluffs and cliffs along the water's edge. He worked primarily in oil, with a Tonalist palette of subdued colors. Stylistically, he belonged to no single school, but instead revealed influences of the Hudson River School with emphasis on the presence of God in nature, the Impressionists' interest in light, and his background in the Arts and Crafts movement.
His works are in the collections of the St. Louis Mercantile Library and the Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri.