Thursday, January 08, 2009

Asa Ames Wood Portraits featured in Williamsburg Exhibits

I see that the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum is hosting an exhibit of the 19th century portrait sculptures of artist Asa Ames. This picture of a delicate little girl named Amanda from the collection of Barbara Rice caught my eye immediately.

I had never heard of Mr. Ames before so I researched his work and learned that he was talented young man born in 1824 who was thought to have apprenticed with a carver of ship figureheads or trade figures. Sadly he died of consumption at only 27 years old. But he left behind a small group of his sculptures, thought to number only 12 to 13, that provide an intimate window into the lives of, mostly young, 19th century Americans.

Another of my favorites is this sculpture of a young man that is part of the permanent collection of the Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington, West Virginia. Although it is unsigned and undated, the work is thought to be the work of Ames because of stylistic similarities with other signed work. It is thought to have been produced in 1847. The Huntington Museum lends a little more insight into Ames short life:

"Asa Ames’s (1823-1851) story is a fascinating, and ultimately tragic, one of an early folk artist. He was born in New York State, probably near Buffalo. Though his early career cannot be traced with certainty, by 1847 Ames was residing in Albany with a family, for whom he carved busts of three children. This was to be the pattern for the rest of his short life. Apparently suffering from tuberculosis, he spent extended periods of time living with various family members and friends, carving busts and full-length sculptures of the younger members of the household, perhaps in exchange for medical care. His work, of gessoed and painted wood, was characterized by a direct frontality with great attention to detail and dress. Sadly, he was finally overcome by his illness, and he died at age 27.

The Huntington Museum’s Bust of a Young Man (ca. 1847), though unsigned and undated, can be attributed to Ames on stylistic and other grounds. An interesting feature is a circular hole into which some type of ornament was originally placed. It may have been a medallion recording an academic, athletic, or other achievement. Whatever it was, the prominence of its placement indicates great importance to its owner."

The American Folk Art Museum in New York exhibited his work and produced an wonderful slide show of some of his pieces.

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