Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center / DeWitt Wallace Gallery

Colonial Williamsburg / Williamsburg, VA



Amanda and Friends / By Popular Demand


Colonial Williamsburg's Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum will feature two new exhibitions from objects in the foundation's extensive folk art collections April 29, 2000 through Sept. 4, 2001. The first, "Amanda and Friends," will showcase a 19th-century sculpture of three-and-a-half year old Amanda Armstrong, created by commercial carver and portraitist Asa Ames (1824-51) in 1847, along with 11 19th-century paintings of children, illustrating period clothing, appearance and activities.

(left: Asa Ames, 1824-1851, "Amanda C. Armstrong" (L1994.BR.1), Erie County, New York, 1847; carved and white pine, loaned by Barbara Rice, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA)

This amazing life-sized carving represents a lively three-and-a-half-year-old girl. Because of the time, labor and expense involved in producing them, such sculptures were rare in 19th-century America.



Ames carved young Amanda Armstrong's portrait from a single block of tulip poplar wood. Her likeness is a reminder of the importance Americans at the time attached to images of children due to the high rate of infant mortality. The sculpture, a treasured family heirloom, was passed down in Amanda's family and eventually inherited by one of her great-granddaughters who placed it on long-term loan at the folk art museum.

(left: Joseph Whiting Stock, 1815-1855, "William Howard Smith" (41.100..8), Springfield, Massachusetts, 1838; oil on canvas, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA)

David Smith commissioned full-length, near-life-sized likenesses of two of his children in 1838. The impressive pictures cost $12 each -- a steep price at the time, but one made affordable by the success of Smith's carriage and stagecoach manufactory. The boy, William Howard Smith, eventually inherited his father's business and maintained its success. In fact, one of his vehicles became the first "horseless carriage" when a local mechanic installed a motor in it in 1892.

(right: Joseph Whiting Stock, 1815-1855, "Mary Jane Smith" (41.100.9), Springfield, Massachusetts, 1838; oil on canvas, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA)

Though Mary Jane Smith was only two years old when Stock painted her, she already had acquired a doll and a cradle -- playthings that would help her prepare for adult roles as a wife and mother. The basket on her child-sized chair probably held simple sewing tools, for she would not have been considered too young to begin learning the rudiments of stitching.

The second exhibition, "By Popular Demand," will consist of approximately 40 paintings and drawings selected by Colonial Williamsburg staff and visitors during a two-month survey that asked participants to include brief comments revealing why they "voted" as they did. Some participants based their selections on sensory perceptions and emotional reactions, drawn by a picture's patterns, colors, rhythms or shapes, while others drew on factual data and historical associations in making their decisions. Most seem to have been influenced by a combination of visual and intellectual content. The result has been a wide variety of objects and viewpoints illustrated in stimulating and often thought-provoking comments.

(left: Attributed to Erastus Salisbury Field, 1805-1900, "Boy on Stenciled Carpet" (31.l00.3), probably Lee, Massachusetts, ca. 1838; oil on canvas, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA)

The unidentified subject is presumed to have been a brother of the little girl with a rattle shown in a separate portrait with an identically colored and patterned floor covering. When parents could afford the luxury of individual likenesses of their children, they sometimes commissioned them in graduated sizes, with canvas dimensions increasing in proportion to the subjects' ages.

(right: Attributed to Erastus Salisbury Field, 1805-1900, "Girl Holding Rattle" (31.100.4), probably Lee, Massachusetts, ca. 1838; oil on canvas, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA)

Field portrayed his young subject in a stance common to toddlers: she steadies herself by holding on to a nearby chair. The woven straw rattle in her hand confirms her tender years, while the elfin face of a cat peeking from behind her skirt adds notes both of whimsy and realism to the picture as a whole.

"One traditional favorite hangs at the entrance to the show," said Barbara Luck, Colonial Williamsburg curator of paintings and curator of the exhibition. "Our unidentified 'Baby in a Red Chair' wears an expression of such serenity and contentment that few viewers can resist smiling at the sight of it. With a few telling strokes of his brush, the artist captured an impression of childhood innocence that some of us might well envy."

(left: Artist unidentified; possibly Pennsylvania, "Baby in Red Chair" (31.100. 1), ca. 1810-1830, oil on canvas, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, VA)

This delightful portrait of a baby was purchased in 1931 by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948), making it the first of her important acquisitions in what was then a pioneering and little-known field of collecting. By mid-century, American folk art had come into its own thanks partly to Mrs. Rockefeller's aesthetic imagination, enterprise and foresight.


rev. 3/8/01

Read more about the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center / DeWitt Wallace Gallery in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/23/11

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