“The Fruit of his Masonic Skill and Industry:” Painting for the Craft


Apron, 1817

Nathan Negus (1801-1825)

Boston, Massachusetts

Special Acquisitions Fund, 79.47

Photograph by John M. Miller


Nathan Negus decorated this apron when he was sixteen years old and an apprentice with ornamental painter, John Ritto Penniman (1782-1841). Never finished or worn, this apron may have been decorated as part of Negus’ instruction. Over the course of his five years in Penniman’s shop, Negus became familiar with the artist's Masonic business. This exposure helped him learn about the fraternity’s symbols, such the ones seen here and those on a box, thought to have been painted by Negus, that is displayed on this page.   

In 1847, Boston ornamental and decorative painter Thomas Savory (1818-1896) advertised in the Freemason’s Monthly Magazine that he made “Banners, aprons, and every variety of painting for Lodges, chapters & c….” with “neatness and dispatch.”  Savory, like many painters before him, saw a business opportunity in serving the Masonic community. A member of St. John’s Lodge, Savory was familiar with Freemasonry’s symbols, ritual and governance. Not every artist who painted tracing boards, aprons or furniture for lodges was a Mason. Some joined, in part, to be better positioned to attract Masonic customers. For example, artist Nathan Negus (1801-1825) learned about Freemasonry as an apprentice. Later he became a member of a lodge, actively sought Masonic commissions, and took pride in his work on what he described as “an elegant Masonic Hall.”

“The Fruit of his Masonic Skill and Industry:” Painting for the Craft