COLLECTION: Decorative Sculpture

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Figure with Vessel

Possibly 1849-1865
Origin: America, New York, Fayetteville
Overall: 8 x 5 1/4 x 3in. (20.3cm, 7.6cm)
Pine and paint
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1961.701.2
A freestanding woodcarving of a male figure seated on a low block, his arms wrapped around a bucket set upright on his knees, his fingertips nearly touching on the far side of it. His dense, short-cropped hair and wide mouth suggest African ancestry. His attire is only sketchily represented: long trousers with narrow cuffs, a long-sleeved jacket with a natural waistline and a high, standing collar, and a shirt whose flared cuff is visible beyond the end of his jacket sleeve. He gazes evenly straight ahead.

Artist unidentified.
Label:According to the basics of a still-unconfirmed verbal tradition relayed to the museum by its vendor, dealers Avis and Rockwell Gardiner, the carving was made by "a young employee" who worked for Hiram Wood (1806-1885), operator of a saw mill and two grist mills in Fayetteville, New York, during, variously, 1836-1840 and 1849-1865 (n. 1). The carving was inherited by Wood's daughter, Martha Louise (b. 1842 in Fayetteville), whose son, Harry Wood Andrews, sold the figure out of the family (see "Provenance").

Based solely on the sculpture's appearance, the carver is thought to have been an African-American. The subject's facial features are typical of many Africans, the pose recalls some forms of African sculpture, and the piece lacks aspects of stereotyping and caricature that commonly marked white depictions of African-Americans in the period (n. 2). Unfortunately, none of Wood's employees --- African-American or white --- has been identified (n. 3). Fourteen people of African descent lived in the Fayetteville vicinity in 1840, five in 1850, and six in 1855, and half of the African-American famlies living there in 1865 were from the South (n. 4).

Provenance:Purportedly Hiram Wood, Fayetteville, NY; to his daughter, Martha Louise Wood (b. 1842); to her son, Harry Wood Andrews; Alexander Allen; Avis and Rockwell Gardiner, Stamford, Conn.