Fair of Face

Fair of Face

Early American Folk Portraits

Fair of Face offers hand painted folk portraits suitable for homes and offices decorated in the Early American style. I offer original paintings in the Naif style, as well as copies of paintings from the late 18th and early 19th century America.

Early American furnishing is the natural decor for most houses over a century old, as well as providing a friendly, welcoming, semi-formal atmosphere in modern buildings. While the furniture, rugs and drapes are easily available, appropriate antiques and reproductions are needed to complete the lookk. Antiques are often too expensive and fragile to withstand the rigors of home or office use, and reproductions also give the decorator more control to create exactly the look he or she wants to achieve. A print, even on canvas, can never be as satisfying as a painting produced by hand. This is where Fair of Face comes in.

The signature art form of our young nation was the portrait. Itinerant painters traveled over the countryside, staying a week or a month in each town “taking likenesses: and moving on. A contemporary critic once wrote: “You can hardly open the door of the best-room anywhere, without surprising or being surprised by, the picture of somebody, plastered to the wall.” Although untaught in academic skills, the itinerant artists were able to catch good likenesses (our Yankee forebears would hardly have parted with their hard earned money were they not satisfied on that count), and the character they captured still speaks volumes to modern viewers.

I have been painting portaits professionally since 1979, but when we bought our 1850’s farm house, I first discovered and came to appreciate the early American period portrait style. I offer ready to hang, framed portraits, painted from period examples ranging from the colonial period up to the 1850’s. Each comes with a calligraphed history of the original piece, and is clearly labeled on the back as a copy. However most of my customers prefer custom work. As charming as many of these faces are- most people would rather look at their own families faces, and since I can easily paint a period gown or suit on a modern person, the possibilities for home decoration are boundless.

I see myself as a craftsman, working with you, the designer, to fulfill your vision for the room you are creating. Not only can I “take a likeness” (preferably from life, but also from photographs), I am happy to match colors in the painting to the fabric swatches or paint chips provided by the customer, or to paint in a special object, view through a window, or family pet. (Pets and younger children are often most easily painted from photographs.) I will need to charge extra if I have to travel far to come paint you- and I prefer to stay in New England. I can also stretch a canvas to fit an existing antique frame, or a specific size or shape of space where a painting is needed.  The Early American period was one of great energy, and I enjoy making it possible for people without huge budgets to have a portrait of themselves or their loved ones in their homes- as the Itinerant painters of the period did for our ancestors.

I can also do miniatures suitable for wearing or hanging, and modern portraits, although I have come to love the energy of the Naif period. Another advantage of this sstyle is that it is quick to produce- the painting will probably take longer to dry, and usually longer to plan than it does to create.

If you would like such a portrait, I will send you an tutorial about how to take the reference photographs. Many artists offer to make such “instant ancestor” portraits from your snapshots, but your favorite pictures were probably candid shots, and likely to have big smiles. When someone sat for an hour or two while being painted, they rarely had a big smile, although you certainly won’t need to hold still while you are sitting. I have found that chatting and moving occasionally actually results in a better sitting. The painting then shows a composite of your many moods, and is thus more nuanced than a shot of a single moment. There are also traditional poses, and I have a large collection of books to inspire you, and from which you can design your own, but authentic, pose. It is important that the light be from the same direction on everything and everyone in the painting, so if you want a multiple person portrait, all should be shot with the same lighting. (If one or more of the subjects is dead, I’ll just deal with the challenge.)

As a point of interest from an art historian, you may have heard that the old painters spent their winters making up a collection of paintings with only the head not filled in, and took those around, painting faces into them. This is supposed to account for why sometimes the heads and bodies don’t seem to match. While many examples of paintings with only the face finished, there are none of finished paintings with no faces. It is likely that the client sat while his face was painted, then the artist finished the rest of the painting. If he had not planned properly, the head might be too large or small for the body, but that would have been simply a problem of poor planning. Ads have been found in old papers indicating that a likeness with shading was $4, and one without was $2. The rich in Boston would have famous artists, these were what the rest of us got. But having your face in a gown your great grandmother might have worn will be quite in keeping with the style.

My prices are in the same range as a good quality framed prints on canvas: $300-$600. Wholesale prices are available on request.

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