Brief Biography of Austin C. Wooster
Austin C. Wooster, son of Dr. Henry Wooster and Rebecca Thornburg, was a southwestern Pennsylvania painter of portraits, landscapes, and still lifes from 1860 to 1916. He was born on November 24,1838 "at the old manse" on the Thornburg farm in Chartiers Valley, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. This is now part of a town called Thornburg. His great-grandfather, Thomas Thornburg, was a member of the Pennsylvania Militia during the Revolutionary War. Austin's grandparents, Jacob and Jane Lorain Thornburg, who raised him after the early death of his parents, discouraged his art, looking on it as an insane fancy or crime, rather than as a gift.
Wooster married Lillian Mary Ackelson in Union Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, just nine days before he enlisted in the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on September 15, 1861.
Wooster's Civil War pension claim application, in 1883 , describes him as being 45 years old; 5' 8" tall, light complexion and hair, with hazel or grey eyes; he gave his occupation as artist. Wooster contracted malarial fever after the Battle of Fair Oaks, Virginia on May 31, 1862.
He was hospitalized for three and a half months at Fortress Monroe, Virginia and Broad Street Hospital, Philadelphia. He was granted a medical discharge on September 16, 1862, because of total deafness in one ear, and partial deafness in the other.
Wooster served in General John J. Peck's brigade and was Brigade Artist in April 1862. Wooster's daughter, Virginia, reported that he had painted a portrait of General Peck. She said that in 1904 this painting hung in the home of his nephew in Washington D.C. Previous biographies and articles mention Wooster's interment in Libby prison. Wooster's pension application shows no evidence of this. It is very likely he would have cited his imprisonment as he would have received a larger pension if he had been taken prisoner. Samuel Bates' "History of the Pennsylvania Volunteers" published in 1870, shows Wooster reenlisted in 1864. The National Archives does not have any record of this, and Wooster states in his pension application that he never served in the military at any other time.
After discharge, Wooster lived in Green Tree (then called Union Township), Allegheny County, Pennsylvania where he earned his living as an artist and did occasional work at house painting. Wooster had a studio in Pittsburgh at Fourth Avenue and Wood Street. He exhibited his work in various ways, including the "1890 Western Pennsylvania Exposition Society," and Pittsburgh department stores, where he sold his work. Wooster also did work for hire; painting houses, farms, and vineyards in neighboring communities. According to two of Wooster's neighbors he did portraits, and he gave lessons in watercolor to at least one young girl, also a neighbor.
No records have been found regarding Wooster's art training. Wooster appears to have been greatly influenced by the style of A. F. King, a local artist of the same time period, though it is not known if he actually studied under King.
Wooster died of heart problems on February 22, 1916 in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania at the age of 78, and is buried in Chartiers Cemetery, Noblestown Road, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Austin and Mary Wooster had six children: Virginia (Jennie), Austin C. Jr., Annie, Josephine, Nettie, and Arthur.
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Copyright 2003, Janice G. Donley, all rights reserved, condensed version. Research assistance by the Historical Society of Green Tree and David Majka. Thanks to Marianne Watton, Charles Graser, and Richard Wagner, 2003.