Portrait of Amanda Clayanna Armstrong [later, Mrs. Solon C. White](1844-1924)
Origin: America, New York, Evans
Overall: 38 1/2 x 14 x 10in. (97.8 x 35.6 x 25.4cm)
Other (integral base alone): 2 1/2 x 13 1/2 x 10in. (6.4 x 34.3 x 25.4cm)
Polychromed yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Gift of Barbara Rice in memory of her grandfather, Arthur T. White, and her mother, Eleanor Rice
Acc. No. 2009.701.1
A freestanding, polychromed, life-size carved wooden figure of a young girl standing on a base, her proper left arm resting on a slab draped with a red cloth. The slab is inscribed and the top of the base is pebbled in texture. The child wears square-toed black shoes, white pantaloons, and a three-quarter sleeved black dress having a low, square-cut neckline edged by a self-ruffle, the dress belted at her natural waistline. The girl's blonde hair is parted in the center and pulled back close to her head behind her ears but curled up at the nape of her neck. Her proper right arm has been broken off at the elbow and is now readhered, although three fingers remain missing. Her feet are placed one somewhat behind the other, her body and head slightly turned.
Label:Asa Ames carved this portrait when his subject was three-and-a-half years old. Presumably he worked from measurements, clay or plaster models, sketches, and perhaps even photographs for a good part of his production time, since most youngsters would have lacked the patience and self-control to pose for more than a brief instant. Some of Ames's sculptures were made from laminated slabs, but this one was created from a single block of wood, which would have prohibited significant changes during the course of the work.
The informality of Amanda's pose is perfectly suited to a child's likeness. It also shows how little Ames was influenced by the theatrical attitudes in which high-style sculptors like Horatio Greenough (1805-1852) and Hiram Powers (1805-1873) depicted their subjects. Amanda's attire is also realistic. Rather than presenting her in flowing neoclassical drapery, Ames showed her wearing what was, most likely, her own, fashionable, late 1840s frock. The familiar costume, Amanda's relaxed stance, and her outstretched hand provide a degree of spontaneity not seen in more academic likenesses. Besides being an exceptional achievement for a carver who was barely twenty-three years old, the sculpture reminds us of the importance Americans attached to images of children at a time when infant mortality rates were high.
Amanda Clayanna Armstrong was born at Adelphi, Ohio, on May 26, 1844, the youngest child of Dr. Thomas Armstrong and Joanna Terry Armstrong. Soon after the child's birth, the Armstrongs moved to Evans, New York, where Dr. Armstrong practiced medicine. Tradition holds that Ames carved the likeness of Amanda while staying with the Armstrongs, perhaps in exchange for medical training or treatment from her father. (Ames died of consumption less than four years later).
The carving descended in Amanda's family until 2009, a long lineage that helped ensure the transmittal of important information about Amanda's life following her 1863 marriage to Solon C. White. Its lengthy family descent also illustrates the sometimes complex dispersal patterns of inherited treasures. Amanda's parents retained the carving of their daughter until sometime between 1870 and 1876, when they gave it to Amanda who, by then, was living in Sandwich, Illinois. In 1902 Amanda and Solon White moved from Illinois to California, leaving the sculpture with a daughter in Iowa who later left it to her own daughter. Eventually, the last-named relation sent the carving to California, entrusting it to the safekeeping of an uncle (who was also a son of Amanda and Solon White). Inspired by the resemblance between Amanda's likeness and one of his granddaughters at a like age, the uncle decided to will the statue to her. Thus, in 1961, Barbara Rice, one of Amanda's great-granddaughters, came into possession of the carving, and in 2009, she gave it to Colonial Williamsburg.
Provenance:The carving was retained by the subject's parents, Thomas and Joanna Armstrong, until sometime between 1870 and 1876, when it was sent to Amanda (who, by then, had married Solon C. White and was living in Sandwich, Illinois). When the Whites moved from Illinois, to Clovis, California, in 1902, the statue was left with their only daughter, Mrs. Lew Mighell (nee Gracia May White)(d. 1950), of Lake City, Iowa. In 1950, the carving was sent to Mrs. Mighell's daughter, Mrs. Dell Garby, of Los Altos, California. Mrs. Garby then sent the carving to her uncle, Arthur T. White (1876-1961) of Dinuba, California. (In their old age, Amanda and Solon White had lived with Arthur T. White, who was one of their sons.) Arthur T. White willed the carving to his granddaughter, Barbara Rice who, however, did not take physical possession of it. After the 1961 death of Arthur T. White, the carving remained in the possession of his widow, Alice Hughson White, until her death in 1967, when it was sent to Eleanor Rice of Dinuba, California, as custodian for her daughter, Barbara. Barbara Rice donated the carving to Colonial Williamsburg in 2009.
Most of the above information comes from the Curator Work Sheet completed by Eleanor Rice and enclosed with her letter to AARFAM of 10 September 1977.
Inscription(s):Incised into the integral carved slab on which the subject rests her proper left arm is, "AMANDA C./ARMSTRONG/BORN MAY/26/1844/BY A. AMES/NOV 1847".