(Jan. 6, 1842-Feb. 20, 1920). Businessman and amateur artist, Christian Schrader was born in Indianapolis. His German-born father worked on the Central Canal and National Road. From 1843 to 1847, the Schraders lived in a small eastside German neighborhood on Alabama Street facing Courthouse Square and then across town in a small frame house near the old State House from 1849 to 1880.

Sketch of the first Marion County Courthouse by Christian Schrader, ca. 1820s.
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society.

In a northwest room of the State House between 1853 and 1860, Schrader received his art education by watching Jacob Cox, James Bolivar Dunlap, and Henry Waugh paint temperance panoramas. For practical reasons, he decided against an artistic career and went into the china painting and purveying business, opening a shop in 1872 on Washington Street that he ran until his retirement in 1909.

In a 60-year span, Schrader witnessed the total rebuilding of the city. When he retired, he decided to record Indianapolis as it had existed in his boyhood up to the building of the Union Depot in 1853 (See Union Station), the structure that symbolized the beginning of the boom. Schrader drew semblances of 178 residences, shops, churches, and manufactories within the Mile Square.

Christian Schrader sketch of Governor's Mansion, ca. 1850
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

Since few other visual records existed, Schrader relied on his memory, which the Indianapolis Star described as “remarkable”. When his recollections were clear, his drawings were detailed and highly finished; when more vague, the drawings were little more than thumbnail sketches. Nevertheless, the 113 drawings and 12 paintings given by Schrader’s daughters to the Indiana State Library a decade after the artist’s death in Madison, Indiana provide an invaluable, if unverifiable, catalog of antebellum Indianapolis.

Revised February 2021
Visual Arts

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