WOOD ENGRAVINGS AS SHEET MUSIC COVERS

Homer’s earliest known professional works are sheet music covers done while he was apprenticed from 1855 to 1857 in the shop of Boston lithographer John Henry Bufford. They were often derived from British music covers (close copying was common practice in the days before international copyright agreements). The music itself is uncomplicated, and the lyrics are often sentimental with a comic twist—a popular formula in an era when people entertained themselves and their friends by making music at home.

Homer did not enjoy drawing these covers. When asked, years later, why he refused the security of a salaried job with Harper’s Weekly in 1859, he responded: “The slavery at Bufford’s was too fresh in my recollection to let me care to bind myself again. From the time that I took my nose off that lithographic stone, I have had no master, and never shall have any.”

The Wheelbarrow Polka, 1856
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