Summertime — Genealogy Time

Art historian and visual cultural studies scholar Judith Wilson has brought our attention to the exhibition of a black woman’s portrait at the Middlesex County Historical Society in Connecticut.

This unattributed pastel on paper image (circa 1904) depicts Anna M. Warmsley (circa 1870s/1880s-1944). Warmsley (née Steadman [sp?]) lived in Middletown, Conn.

Judith saw Carla Halloway’s Facebook posting about this portrait last week. Ms. Halloway of East Hartford, Connecticut wrote that the portrait had been “rescued from the trash” and given to the historical society.

Ms. Halloway’s post generated a lively FB discussion, including comments from a descendant of Anna Warmsley and her husband Herbert Elmer Warmsley (1878/1881-1954). The historical society also has a portrait of Herbert Warmsley.

In  online public records (US Federal Census, etc.) and others on ancestry.com, the Warmsley’s family name sometimes appears as “Warmesley.” In early records, Anna is termed a “Negro” and Herbert, whose listed profession was a “galvanizer” in a foundry, a “mulatto.” Anna was a housekeeper for “a private family. She married Herbert when she was about 21. (No marriage certificate appears online. But the US Federal Census of 1910 states that they had been married for five years.)

Who might have painted the Warmsley couple around 1904? They were people of some means and were respected in their community. Did they commission their portraits? White or other non-black artists may have taken up this job. And what about the possibility that the portraits were done by one of the several East Coast artists of color whose names and works we know today?

John G. (Gwynne) Chaplin (1828-1907) worked in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and painted representational mythological and Biblical themes, and portraits. A man of mixed ethnicity–European-American and African-American–Chaplin traveled to Germany and had a studio in Dusseldorf before returning to the US to settle in Youngstown, Pennsylvania. (The actor Charlie Chaplin [1889-1977] was once told that he was related to the artist Chaplin.)

Black Hartford native Nelson E. Primus (1842-1916) made his reputation as a portraitist. But he moved to San Francisco in 1895, so it seems unlikely that he painted the Warmsleys.

Charles Ethan Porter (1847-1923) was a black artist from Hartford. Porter’s still lifes and realist landscapes were admired in the late 19th and early 20th century, and they’re sought after now by collectors of African-American artists’ production. His brushy style seems quite different from the linear approach of the Warmsley portrait. Sounds like a good time to return to the monograph exhibition catalogues on Porter by Helen Krieble et al. (1987) and the New Britain Museum of American Art (2008).

Annie E.A. Walker (1855-1929) was born in Brooklyn, and appears to have spent her younger years in Alabama and in Dallas, Texas. She studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, and graduated from the Cooper Union School for the Advancement of Science and Art in 1895. (See this account of her Cooper Union years.) Afterward, she traveled to France and studied at the Academie Julian in Paris for several years. Her best known work is the Salon-exhibited pastel on paper called  La Parisienne (Howard University Art Gallery). She returned the US in the first decade of the 20th century and worked in Washington, DC. Her career and activities were researched by James V. Herring (1942), James A. Porter (1967), Lowery Sims (1978), Andrew Cosentino and Henry H. Glassie (1983), Tritobia Hayes Benjamin (1993), and others. Yet Walker is an artist about whom we don’t know enough. Works are attributed to her here and there, including in some files I haven’t looked at in years. Time to blow the dust off those. More to come…

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Author: Jacqueline Francis

Writer, teacher, curator, and arts consultant in San Francisco, California. Follow me on Twitter @JackieFrancisSF

3 thoughts on “Summertime — Genealogy Time”

  1. I am the person who rescued and donated the portraits, here referenced, approx, 25 years ago. They sat at curbside for trash, in front of Herb Warmsley’s former residence, following his widow’s death. My father grew up next to the Warmsleys, at 10 Farm Hill rd in Middletown, The referenced galvanizer position was at Wilcox- Crittenend, in Middetown. When I donated the portraits they were framed, missing glass and quite dusty. I was thrilled to learn that they have been restored. I have contacted the historical society, and upon request they are sending me photos of both portraits. The one identified as Herb, is of a young boy, dressed “effeminately”… almost looked to be wearing a dress, if my memory serves me right.

  2. Wow, Jackie. You’ve really taken the ball and run with it!
    About that missing marriage certificate: I’ve been researching my ancestors (now and then) for the past decade and just recently got serious about it. Last week I found a marriage certificate I’d given up looking for on Ancestry. Turns out I just needed to try Family Search instead! In some cases, I’ve had to pay (VitalChek or county recorders’ offices) for records. Right now, I’m stumped because the state of Missouri can’t find a birth certificate for my dad. My sense is that there’s lots of info out there, but it can take a long time to find some of it.

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