John Carlin, a poet and painter of miniatures on ivory, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 15, 1813. A deaf-mute, and one of sixteen original students, he graduated in 1825 from the Pennsylvania Institute for the Deaf and Dumb. In 1833-1834, in Philadelphia, he studied portraiture and drawing. In 1838 he went to London, studying the past tradition of art in the National Museum. He later went to Paris, studying with Paul Delaroche, before returning to the United States in 1841, living in New York City and practicing the profession of miniaturist. When the advent of photography made miniature painting obsolete, Carlin switched to landscapes and genre scenes.
He became a member of the Artists’ Fund Society in 1859, exhibiting frequently there. He also exhibited at the National Academy of Design, New York City. Some of his paintings include The Flight into Egypt; The Village Gossips (1880); The Twin Grandchildren (1881); Going after Marshmallows (1883); and The Grandfather’s Story (1885). His work is represented in the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan; Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.; and the Kentucky School for the Deaf, Danville.
Carlin’s poems, The Deaf-Mute’s Lament, were published in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier, and others appeared elsewhere, causing a stir because no one had ever heard of a deaf poet. The editor of the American Annals of the Deaf said, “We should almost as soon expect a man born blind to become a landscape painter, as one born deaf to produce poetry of even tolerable merit.” Carlin also wrote articles on architecture that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post magazine. In 1868 he published a children’s book, “The Scratchiest Family,” with drawings of monkeys engraved by another deaf artist.
John Carlin was active in helping other deaf people. He raised $6000 for the building fund of the St. Ann Church for the Deaf in New York. From 1873-1881, he chaired a fund-raising committee to build the Gallaudet Home for Aged and Infirm Deaf. And Carlin was influential in Edward Miner Gallaudet’s decision to found a university for the deaf. In 1864, Carlin spoke at the opening of Gallaudet University, later receiving the first honorary Master of the Arts degree proffered by the University.
Carlin was married to a daughter of William Henry Seward’s family, Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State responsible for the purchase of Alaska from Russia.
John Carlin died on April 23, 1891.