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A. Hawley's Inn Sign

ca. 1830
Origin: America, Connecticut, Hartford
Other (signboard without hanging brackets, slightly irreg.): 37 7/8 x 56 1/8 x 3 3/4in. (96.2 x 142.6 x 9.5cm) Overall (with hanging brackets that are part of the object): 48 x 56 1/4 x 4in. (121.9 x 142.9 x 10.2cm)
Paint, gilding, sand, and mica on wood with iron brackets
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1975.707.1
A double-sided signboard in a frame and having attached iron brackets by which to suspend it.
One side of the sign depicts a standing male lion with a length of chain running from around its neck, his tail curled in an "S" over his back. He stands on a green ground. The other side depicts a spread eagle grasping arrows and olive branches and having a shield in front of him, beneath a field of 24 six-pointed stars, all enclosed in an oval.
The frame bears repetitive decoration of a floral element and striping on each side, but the decoration on the two sides are rendered in two different color schemes.
Iron brackets extend down the lengths of the sides of the frame and, by about 8 inches, along the bottom and top; the upper elements are twisted and terminate in eyes.
The signboard is composed of three horizontally-joined boards set into rabbets cut into four one-piece moldings. Decoratively twisted wrought iron hangers with looped ends welded to sheet-iron brackets running down either side molding and overlapping the top and bottom moldings are secured with screws and hold the moldings and the painted signboards together.
Label:William Rice was born at Petersham, Massachusetts, in 1773, a son of Luke (1744-1806) and Prudence Gates Rice [n. 1]. The painter married Martha Goulding (1777-1843) of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, in 1799, and the couple had ten children, four of whom survived both parents. After first residing at Worcester, Massachusetts, the Rices moved to nearby Lancaster where they remained until sometime between 1814 and 1818, when they settled permanently in Hartford, Connecticut [n. 2]. William Rice's occupation as a sign painter may explain the family's transience before their final move to Hartford. Rice continued to paint signs and sell art supplies in Hartford until at least 1844 [note 3].

Rice was a skilled marketer of his talents. Besides placing advertisements in Hartford newspapers, he usually signed his work, which was rare for a nineteenth-century sign painter or ornamental artist. However, these practices probably helped him gain a reputation as one of the Connecticut Valley's foremost sign painters, with demand for his work extending from Hartford to southern Massachusetts. Moreover, judging by the number of surviving Rice signs incorporating the image of a lion and by an advertisement in Hartford's _American Mercury_ for May 12, 1818, which noted his shop was located "At the Sign of the Lion," the lion might be considered Rice's logo, thus making his work instantly recognizable.

Another favored image used by Rice was an eagle. Both the lion and the eagle are painted on this sign he created for the inn operated by Allen Hawley (1798-1866) and located south of Hanging Mountain below New Boston, Massachusetts [n. 4]. The lion is typical of Rice's docile, somewhat astonished cats, and the depiction of the animal bound by a chain possibly symbolized the end of British rule in colonial America. This interpretation is supported by the Federal eagle on the opposite side clutching the olive branch of peace and pointed lightning bolts of war beneath a shower of stars [n. 5]. The images on inn signs are often linked by shared themes and iconography; Hawley's sign likely celebrated America's transition to nationhood by coupling the end of British rule with independence. The association of eye-catching patriotic symbols with a business enterprise has never proved an impediment to success for American entrepreneurs. Rice's stirring images ensured his success and certainly contributed to the survival of his work [n. 6].




Provenance:Allen Hawley, South Boston, Mass.; probably Maria L. Hawley, South Boston, Mass., and Winstead, Conn.; Allen Hawley Norton, Winstead, Conn.; Joseph Allen Norton, Winstead, Conn.; Helen Norton Schaefer, Winstead, Conn.; Nathan Liverant, Colchester, Conn.; John L. Walton, Jewett City, Conn.


Inscription(s):Each side of the sign is lettered in gilded block letters, "A. HAWLEY'S INN." The side bearing the eagle is also lettered in the lower right corner "Rice."