Figure of a boy, exceptionally carved and painted with great sensitivity, wood and original polychrome paint, USA, ca. 1840
43” x 15” x 8”
This forty-three inch high figure of a young boy, ca 1840, is a tender yet serious carving in original polychrome paint, purchased over 20 years ago in the Buffalo, New York area. Hitherto unidentified, it is an attribution as of production of the print auction catalog.
Little is known about Asa Ames. With a likely early apprenticeship in ship-carving or trade figures, Ames devoted most of his career to carving portraits of family and friends; he described his occupation as “sculpturing” in 1850, just a year before his death. By then he had produced twelve documented busts or full-length figures.
Ames’s sculptures first came to public attention in 1931 at the Newark Museum exhibition American Folk Sculptures: The Work of 18th and 19th Century Craftsmen, where he was wrongly identified as Alexander, not Asa, Ames. As more of his work surfaced over the following decades, Ames’s repute grew among scholars and collectors. His significance as a major and masterful American carver was affirmed with Asa Ames: Occupational Sculpturing. Today Ames is an icon in the folk art field.
Asa Ames: Occupational Sculpturing included an eccentric, yet carefully composed daguerreotype (pictured) that had descended in the family, previously unknown to scholars. It offers some insight into the mystery surrounding Asa Ames., A curious man on the lower right, perhaps a patron or benefactor, first catches our attention. Our eye then follows his gaze to the artist in his studio. Formally dressed, working with a mallet and chisel, he is surrounded by three sculptures of children, two busts and an infant, all clearly by his own hand, bearing a resemblance to each other and to Ames himself.
Despite the acclaim and publicity that followed Asa Ames: Occupational Sculpturing, no other works by Ames have surfaced until now. This remarkable sculpture - with the familiar determined look, sensitively detailed nose and mouth, delicate neck and throat, full eyebrows, carved hair and piercing stare that seems to follow the viewer - has been in a private collection for the last two decades. In that time, admired by collectors and featured in publications, it has been hiding in plain sight. While attributed to Asa Ames by the owner, the true authorship has not been validated until now.
This 43" high figure, carved from pine, shows surface wear and dings commensurate with age and long use.
There are two restorations:
The joint at the right elbow/forearm, which was damaged beyond repair, was replaced by a new joint, custom- designed and carved to be identical to the other original joint on the other forearm.
The second alteration is on the foot of the right leg, invisible to the eye unless the shoe is removed. A piece of pine has been inserted and attached to allow the foot to slide in and out of the lower leg exactly as the unrestored left foot.
The shoes are period and there is no sign that they are replaced.
We see no evidence of over-painting or freshening of the paint anywhere on the figure.
There was a terminus to the hands that is now missing. There is no sign that the fingers or thumbs were jointed . The wire that held the finger or portion of the hand in place is visible.
If this was indeed a trade figure, the hands may have ended in an L-shaped extension made to replicate joined fingers and hold a product. The fact that the arms of the figure only move in one direction supports this conjecture. The thumbs that are missing may have been a part of the item that had been held.
Please feel free to contact Marion Harris at Rago for further information.
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