Attributed to Asa Ames (1823-1851, Evans, Erie County, New York), Phrenological Head, c. 1850, Paint on wood, 16-3/8 x 13 x 7-1/8", American Folk Art Museum, bequest of Jeanette Virgin, 1981.24.1, Photo by John Parnell, New York.

The Short Life of a Man Who Sculpted His Family and Neighbors in Wood

Asa Ames (1823-1851, Evans, Erie County, New York), Seated Female Figure with Lamb and Cup, Dated April, 1850, Paint on yellow poplar, 29 1/4 x 12 1/4 x 12", Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, bequest of Roscoe Nelson Gray in memory of Roscoe Nelson Dalton Gray and Rene Gabrielle Gray, 1978.3.

Asa Ames (1823-1851, Evans, Erie County, New York), Naked Child, Dated 1849, Paint on wood, 26 x 9 x 6", Private collection, Photo by Photosphere Studio, Kentwood, Michigan.

Daguerreotype of Asa Ames, 1849-1851, Artist unidentified; plate marked Scovills (active c. 1839-1850, New York State, 3-1/4 x 3-3/4 x 5-1/8", Collection of John T. Ames, Austin, Texas, loaned in loving memory of John T. and LaVeda R. Ames, Photo courtesy John T. Ames, Austin, Texas.

 

American Folk Art Museum
45 West 53rd Street
212-265-1040
New York
Asa Ames:
Occupation Sculpturing
April 15-September 14, 2008

Asa Ames is a mysterious and tragic figure. The young sculptor died from consumption when he was 27 years, 7 months, and 7 days old. Though his own life was short, he immortalized family members and neighbors in the vicinity of Evans, Erie County, New York, in a legacy of twelve three-dimensional portraits of children and young adults carved between 1847 and his death in 1851.

During the period that Ames was working in Evans, there was little precedent for portraits in wood. Rare examples were carved in a classical style by some talented shipcarvers, but Ames's veristic life-size bust-, waist-, and full-length portraits have few antecedents in American folk sculpture. One of the most intriguing artworks is a startling waist-length carving of a little girl in a pleated red dress with phrenological markings on her head, but the images that come most readily to mind are sensitive carvings of actual children that seem to embody a state of childhood innocence.

The individuation and ethereal solemnity of the carvings derive from sculptural traditions with a long lineage, from Roman portrait busts to marble statuary associated with the rural cemetery movement that was burgeoning in the 1840s. Ames's sense of himself as an artist may be implied in the Federal Census of 1850, in which his occupation is listed as "sculpturing." Details of Ames's own history remain shrouded in shadow, but the work of his hands illuminates the meaningful and personal nature of the lives he captured so beautifully in wood.

Curator of the exhibition is Stacy C. Hollander.

Attributed to Asa Ames (1823-1851, Probably vicinity of Evans, Erie County, New York), Bust of a Woman, c. 1847-1851, Cherry wood (stripped of its original paint), 23 x 13 x 9", Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis, Photo Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis.

Asa Ames (1823-1851, Evans, Erie County, New York), Head of a Young Boy, Dated March, 1849, Paint on wood, 18 x 16 1/2 x 9 1/2", Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, gift of Stephen C. Clark, N0402.1955.

Attributed to Asa Ames (1823-1851, Probably vicinity of Evans, Erie County, New York),Bust of a Young Woman, c. 1847-1851, Paint on laminated basswood, 21 x 17 1/4 x 10", Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1957.701.3.

Asa Ames (1823-1851), Susan Ames, 1849, Paint, wood, 35 x 9 x 8-1/2", Boulder History Museum, Boulder, Colorado, gift of Mrs. Arch Hogue Sr., B.156.1, Photo by Vivian Leaver-Hauschulz, Denver.

Asa Ames (1823 - 1851, Evans, Erie County, New York, Hand Holding Book, c. 1847 - 1851, Wood, 8 x 6 x 3-1/4", Collection of John T. Ames, Austin, Texas, loaned in loving memory of John T. and LaVeda R. Ames, Photo by David M. Stephens

 
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