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John Ross Key

Artist's Biography

John Ross Key was born July 16, 1837, two months after the death of his father. He was brought up in Georgetown, District of Columbia, until age five by his grandfather, Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star Spangled Banner." As a teen-ager John Key was forced to go to work to support his widowed mother. His early talent for drawing led logically to a job as topographical artist and draftsman with the U.S. Coast Survey. In 1859 Key was hired as mapmaker in the advance party of the Lander Expedition whose mission was to chart the best overland trail for large wagon trains through the hostile Indian territories of Wyoming and Nevada. In 1861 along with several other grandsons of Francis Scott Key, Key chose the Confederacy and became a lieutenant in the Confederate Engineers, serving as a mapmaker in Charleston, S.C. and Richmond. His panoramic view of the bombardment of Fort Sumter enjoyed a glamorous exhibition history in the twentieth century through its false attribution to Albert Bierstadt. After the war he devoted full time to painting, coming to California in 1869. Key traveled to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe and took sketches of San Francisco Bay scenery.

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