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Seeing America

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Old Woman with a Bible

ca. 1834
33 1/2 x 28 in. (85.1 x 71.1 cm)

Ammi Phillips
United States (Colebrook, CT, 1788 - 1865, Curtisville [now Interlaken], MA)

Object Type: Painting
Medium and Support: Oil on linen
Credit Line: Beatrice M. Padelford Trust
Accession Number: 1984.22
Link to this object
Location: Not currently on view

We take for granted the ability to record our families' faces. Even the likenesses of those long-dead are etched in our memories by their photographs. But before cameras and film, the only way to save a "likeness" was to create a life or death mask, draw or paint a picture, or make a sculpture.

In rural New York State, many portraits were done by painters like Ammi Phillips who had a minimal amount of training. Their customers, in turn, passed paintings down through the generations until all too often, the identity of the sitters was lost.

If we don't know whose portrait this was, and if Ammi Phillips was not an academically trained artist, why do we continue to appreciate this work and keep it in a museum? The directness of human spirit that these paintings convey combined with the intricacy of design and patterning create a work filled with the "visual delight" that we search for in a work of art.

[Gallery label text, 2008]

This woman’s identity has not been preserved, but we might speculate with confidence that she was a devout person, as her arm is placed so firmly on the Bible. Notice, too, how carefully the artist painted the fabric of her day-cap, the embroidery on her shawl, and even the tasseled trim of the curtains.

[Gallery label text, 2008]

Anonymous collectors, Ontario, NY; George Feeley Antiques, Caledonia, NY; purchased by the Gallery in 1984

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Web Links See links to web pages and lesson plans
Seeing America Inservice Materials from a teacher in-service presentation Spring 2008
Seeing America Chapter on Ammi Phillips' Old Woman with a Bible, written by Susan Nurse.
About Face: Copley’s Portrait of a Colonial Silversmith About Face: Copley’s Portrait of a Colonial Silversmith explores the lives and work of two artists within colonial Boston prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution: painter John Singleton Copley and silversmith Nathaniel Hurd. In addition to focusing upon paintings by Copley and silver pieces by Hurd, these works and other objects put into context the daily life of colonial Boston. Primary source documents (art works, objects, and written texts) provide students with a view of the experiences of men and women who were alive around the time of the American Revolution.

Students will develop critical looking and thinking skills as they gain experience in interpreting historical documents; analyze different interpretations of a key political turning point in American history through the study of visual and written documents of the Boston Massacre; explore important social issues through portraiture.; and evaluate the colonial American economy through primary source documents, like Nathaniel Hurd’s Table of Conversions and a colonial coin.

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