Zeb Tilton Portrait

Zeb Tilton Portrait

The Cavalcade of 1941, a fair organized to benefit the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, brought together two Island celebrities – schooner captain and Vineyard native Zeb Tilton and renowned painter and seasonal Chilmark resident Thomas Hart Benton. Attendees paid a dime or a quarter to watch Benton paint Tilton for two hours on that August day more than 80 years ago, and this is the portrait they saw being made.

Benton was part of the Regionalist movement in American art and is most often associated with the midwest, but he found inspiration on Martha’s Vineyard from his first visits to the Island in the 1920s until his death in 1975. He painted many scenes of the land, the sea, and the people of this place. 

Zeb Tilton (1868-1952) was a schooner captain who carried cargo between ports along the southern New England coast for 60 years. In his youth, the coastal schooner trade had been a thriving enterprise, evidenced by photographs of Vineyard Haven Harbor showing dozens of schooners at anchor, but by the time Benton painted this portrait steamships, trains, and trucks had rendered it obsolete. Zeb was the last of his kind and when he retired the year after Benton painted his portrait, an era came to a close.


Artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)
Title Zeb Tilton
Date 1941
Type Painting
Medium Egg oil tempera on Masonite
Credit Bequest of the Artist
Ref No 1976.002.001
Thematic Collection 100 Years, 100 Stories: Artists of This Island
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