A great deal of information has recently been uncovered about M. W. Hopkins. Although Hopkins is known to have been trained as a decorative painter, he did not support himself solely as an artist. He was a farmer and a teacher, and had a brief career in business. He had a large family, owned property, and participated in church and civic affairs. Most of Hopkins’s sitters were educated people of comfortable means who chose to have their portraits painted in a plain style, unlike the academic style of trained artists. Noah North (1808 – 1880), another well-known portraitist, is thought to have been Hopkins’s apprentice, and the stylistic similarities between their works often make attribution difficult.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990)
Milton W. Hopkins worked in New York State and Ohio. Like many early-nineteenth-century portraitists, he wore many hats, advertising his services as a house and sign painter, gilder, glazer, chairmaker, and seller of painting supplies. In 1828 the artist and his family moved from New York to Richmond, Virginia, where he instructed women in Poonah, an art of stencil painting that was then very fashionable. Hopkins returned to Albion, New York, the following fall, where he established himself as a portrait painter. He eventually purchased a farm near Cincinnati, but continued to paint portraits. From Ohio he traveled around the South seeking commissions. Hopkins was known for his strong political convictions, which he demonstrated through his active involvement in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church and in helping slaves escape through the Underground Railroad. Hopkins died of pneumonia at age fifty-four (Face to Face: M.W. Hopkins and Noah North, Museum of Our National Heritage, 1988).