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Clement Watercolor Family Record

Folk artists in America have long shown a fondness for the "Tree of Life" design form, a symbol of Immortality, whether worked in  needlework, embroidered on silk or painted on silk or paper by schoolgirls or ornamental artists.  Family Records and Genealogies are personal records that list the particulars of the members of the family which they chronicle.  They were particularly popular in Maine and Massachusetts, Maine being part of Massachusetts until 1820.  They provide a fascinating view of family life and are historically important, giving us a glimpse of life in an earlier America.

Looking through the most tightly focused close-up lens of history, these records powerfully connect us with the individuals.  For, with their revelatory names and dates, these records have the ability to telescope history . . . to connect us directly to the personal past: to one specific family, in one location, at one particular moment in time. The popularity of these genealogical embroideries between 1785 and 1825 parallels the rise in family group portraiture in oil on canvas.  Both are decorative expressions of the emerging perception of the family as a private, close-knit, domestic unit unique, fragile, and precious.  All offer interesting information on the early family: size, frequency of birth, spacing of children, precariousness of life and prevalence of death as well as patterns in naming . . . A virtual treasure trove of information for the historian.

Family Records in the form of fruit laden trees in the 1790's remained popular until about 1825, according to Betty Ring in Schoolgirl Embroideries. These naturalistic renderings of sturdy trunks and limbs, usually reverse the position of the parents and their children. The branches, laden with fruit, contained the names and birth dates of the progeny springing from the roots of the tree (the parents) to give a concise Family Record for future generations. The majority of these Family Records were worked by girls in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, as was this one.

This particular Family Register records the genealogy of the Clement Family, John and Hannah (nee: Pierce) and their eight children who resided in Townsend, Massachusetts in the early 1800's. At some point, someone, presumably a family member recorded the death dates on the Register which makes this record more complete.  There is a wonderful visual quality about this watercolor that stems from the bold and beautifully painted floral border.  The undulating flowers and leaves seem to tumble down two sides of this Family Record giving movement and contrast to the more staid central theme . . . that of a fruit laden tree. Within the Clement Family Record, North Middlesex County, Townsend, Massachusetts, c. 1820, it states that John Clement married Hannah Pierce March 1805 and their eight children are represented within the fruitful tree. The work remains bright; excellent condition including the possibly original enameled and gilt frame. (Dimensions: 21" by 19.25", view: 18 by 16.75")

While this  Family Record and a similar piece with the watercolor embellishment at the bottom appears in the Art of the Family, on p. 59, the artist is unknown as well as the school this originated from. When we speak of folk art, it's origins are usually anonymous . . . But most likely was made by a family member . . . so be it . . . the piece must speak for itself and this one speaks volumes.



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