The Family Record Tradition and The Heart and Hand Artist

Richard Miller

A new genre of American artwork, the “family record” or register, appeared just prior to the Revolutionary War. These illuminated manuscripts recorded the births, marriages, and deaths of family members on a single sheet of paper, typically enhanced with images or designs painted in watercolor. The decorative quality of such family records encouraged owners to have them framed and displayed in their homes. For families that could not afford, or did not want, painted portraits of themselves or their children, family records offered an alternative that recorded milestones in the lives of family members, if not their appearance. The large number of surviving family records make clear that many families had sufficient income to purchase these relatively inexpensive hand-painted artworks and provide additional evidence of the importance of original art in early American homes. The popularity of family records also led to the production of watercolor and needlework examples as part of the education offered to young women at many female academies.

In addition to offering evidence of the importance of family ancestry in early America, the proliferation of family records was also a manifestation of the prevalence of disease and high infant mortality rates. It was not without justification that many parents feared that some of their children would not survive infancy or live to adulthood. Family records provided an opportunity to document all members of a family together at least once, although children who had died before the work was begun are sometimes listed by the artist. While the importance of family and lineage was common throughout early America, these decorative records were primarily a regional art form, with most examples being produced in New England and eastern New York. 1 Combining ornamental script with literal or symbolic watercolor iconography, these artworks were created by several identified artists and more than a few anonymous practitioners. Family records often replaced the practice of adding names in the family Bible, making them the primary genealogical artwork in many Northeastern homes. 2

The design for family records became standardized in 1820s. Beneath a title that identifies the document as a family record or register, columns were arranged in which names, births, marriages, and deaths were inscribed. This format was used by Justus Da Lee (1793–1878), who was also a prolific painter of miniature portraits. (Fig. 1) Dividing the sheet into four columns, Da Lee combined symbolic and explicit images above the inscriptions to draw attention to the information provided below. The family record Da Lee painted for the family of George and Christianna Brust of Rensselaer County, New York, replicates the design Da Lee used consistently. A pair of conjoined red hearts at the top acknowledges the couple. To either side, Da Lee painted a man with an anchor, a symbol of hope and birth, above a cradle, and a woman dressed in mourning attire beneath a willow tree above a coffin.

Justus Da Lee (1793–1878), Brust Family Record
Fig. 1 Justus Da Lee (1793–1878), Brust Family Record, Probably Brunswick, Rensselaer County, New York, 1832–1834. Ink and watercolor on paper, 13 ½ x 11 ⅝ in. (34.3 x 29.5 cm). The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Gift of Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, 1939.305.2.
A variation of this format was employed by a particularly imaginative artist who left about a dozen family records of Vermont and New Hampshire families. (Fig. 2) Eliminating a title, the unknown painter consistently used only three columns for “Marriages,” “Births,” and “Deaths.” Conjoined hearts and paired pointing hands symbolize the marriage of Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Skinner and Hannah Wiggins Skinner of Albany, Vermont. Demarcating the columns of data are yellow columns topped by lighted candles that lead from "Marriages" to "Births" and finally to "Deaths", where a black memorial urn and willow trees are placed between columns that transition from yellow to black, life to death.
Artist unidentified, Mr. Daniel Skinner Family Record, Albany, Vermont, c. 1830
Fig. 2 Artist unidentified, Mr. Daniel Skinner Family Record, Albany, Vermont, c. 1830. Ink and watercolor on paper. National Archives, Washington, D.C..
Other prolific family record artists created their own formats, and like Da Lee, signed their work. Signing the records shows not only the pride the artists took in their art, but also an effort to encourage more work by circulating their names. Another prolific artist was William Murray (1756–1828), a Revolutionary War veteran who painted family records primarily in the Montgomery County, New York, area, from at least 1783 until his death. In 1813, he painted a record of the Daniel Countryman-Mary Moyer family of Minden in Montgomery County, one of several records Murray produced for New York families of German extraction. (Fig. 3) A large heart, which contains biographical data about Daniel and Mary Moyer Countryman (the name “Countryman” is misspelled on the record as “Contryman”), is the central image on the record. Working before the family record format followed a standardized format, Murray placed data about the Countryman children in small hearts on either side of the large one, like celestial bodies around a sun. The record was considered a living document by members of the Countryman family who kept it up-to-date, adding death dates through 1911. Other artists, including Samuel Morton, Henry S. Moyer, John T. Adams, and Peter Fake, produced family records whose designs were influenced by Murray’s works, thereby perpetuating his creative legacy through at least 1844.3
William Murray (1756–1828), Daniel Countryman Family Register, Minden, New York, 1813
Fig. 3 William Murray (1756–1828), Daniel Countryman Family Register, Minden, New York, 1813. Ink, pencil, and watercolor on paper, 15 11/16 x 12 13/16 in. (39.8 x 32.5 cm). Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Robert MacGregor Shaw and Virginia Conger Buffington Shaw, 2008.43.
Not all the artists were men. Almira Edson (1803–1886) skillfully rendered ink and watercolor family records, or “registers” as she identified them, in Vermont and Massachusetts from about 1835 to 1847. (Fig. 4) The record she painted for the Woodard-Winslow-Martindale family of Halifax, Vermont, in 1837 typifies her work, which combines the family record and mourning picture, an art genre honoring the dead that gained popularity after the death of George Washington in December 1799. Edson’s work is exceptionally decorative, and the memorials she painted are accompanied by one or two female mourners, or a woman standing with an anchor. Some memorials are inscribed by Edson with the names of deceased family members, but most were left blank for family members to complete at a future date, which happened infrequently. Edson’s meticulous watercolor technique is reminiscent of schoolgirl art, suggesting she may have been trained in painting family records and/or mourning pictures at a female academy near Franklin County, Massachusetts, where her family moved about 1810.
Almira Edson (1803-1886), Woodard-Winslow-Martindale Family Register, Halifax, Vermont, 1837
Fig. 4 Almira Edson (1803–1886), Woodard-Winslow-Martindale Family Register, Halifax, Vermont, 1837. Ink and watercolor on paper, 16 x 18 in. (40.6 x 45.7 cm). Courtesy of Historic Deerfield, Gift of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little, 83.125.
Innovative family records were painted between 1827 and 1831 by James Osborn (ca. 1795–1832/40), who moved from Philadelphia to Portland, Maine, where he opened a studio in 1830.4 (Fig. 5) No family records by Osborn are recorded prior to his move to Portland.5 Like Da Lee and Edson, Osborn also included figures; but rather than painting symbolic individuals, his people were intended as full-length portraits of each member of the family, often standing outdoors near the family’s home. The resemblance of these portraits to the actual individuals may be questioned, but Osborn is unique in portraying family members together, sharing real or imagined everyday experiences.6
James Osborne (c. 1795–1832/40), Libby Family Register, Scarborough, Maine, 1830
Fig. 5 James Osborne (c. 1795–1832/40), Libby Family Register, Scarborough, Maine, 1830. Ink and watercolor on paper, 16 x 23 ½ in. (40.6 x 59.7 cm). Collections of Maine Historical Society, A74-17.

The Heart and Hand Artist

From the late 1840s to the late 1850s, a singularly inventive artist known only by the appellation “The Heart and Hand Artist” produced a variety of ink and watercolor family records, as well as birth and marriage records, and tokens of affection or friendship. This painter was active primarily in New Hampshire, while a smaller group of works were produced for Maine residents, along with six in Vermont, and three in Pennsylvania.7 The records were painted on both vertical and horizontal sheets of paper, and faint layout lines that helped the artist keep letters of consistent size are evident on several family records and on most of the birth records and tokens of affection. No other painter of family records is known to have produced a more imaginative array of records or traveled as widely. The body of work shows great consistency, and the artist’s formats and motifs evolved, becoming more ambitious and decorative over time.

The name “Heart and Hand Artist” derives from the painter's frequent addition of a heart turned sideways and an open right hand pointing left, separated by the word “and” to form a rebus. (Fig. 6) The artist’s choice of this image as a signature motif played on ancient and contemporary references to the symbolic meaning of hearts and hands. The anatomically inaccurate two-lobed heart had been used to represent the love of God since the Middle Ages. By the time this artist employed it, the heart had also come to symbolize romantic and familial love, as well as humanity and brotherly love. Hearts had been used as decorative motifs on a variety of household items made in early America, from furniture to wrought iron tools and implements, and Mother Ann Lee (1736–1784), founder of the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, commonly known as the Shakers, instructed her followers to “Put your hands to work, and your hearts to God.”8 An open hand with a heart in its palm was part of the iconography of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, representing charity given with an open heart.9 (Fig. 7) The motif used by the Heart and Hand Artist reflected the common understanding of heart and hand symbolism at the middle of the nineteenth century, and it was particularly appropriate on documents that expressed the bonds of familial love.

Detail of rebus from Lorenzo F. Conner Token of Affection
Fig. 6  Detail of rebus from Lorenzo F. Conner Token of Affection, attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Henniker, New Hampshire, 1850–1855. Ink and watercolor on paper, 3 x 4 ⅛ in. (7.6 x 10.5), Photograph courtesy of Don Olson American Antiques and Folk Art.
Artist unidentified, Independent Order of Odd Fellows Heart in Hand Staff Finial, United States, 1850–1900
Fig. 7 Artist unidentified, Independent Order of Odd Fellows Heart in Hand Staff Finial, United States, 1850–1900. Paint and gold leaf on wood, 70 × 7 × 2 ¼ in. (177.8 x 17.7 x 5.7 cm.). American Folk Art Museum, Gift of Kendra and Allan Daniel, 2015.1.135.
The earliest known family record by the artist was made for the Joseph Sanborn-Lydia Kelley family in Gilmanton, New Hampshire, in 1849, although it is likely the artist had been active earlier. (Fig. 8) Like the majority of records the artist produced through the late summer of 1853, it is painted on a vertically-oriented sheet, following the common heading and column format. A second record completed about the same time for the Aaron Hanson-Deborah C. Hall family in Lee, New Hampshire adds swags of blue drapery with stylized tassels surrounding the heading. (Fig. 9) The three column format allowed the information in those categories to be presented clearly. Marriages, however, were not given a separate column, which tended to interrupt the flow of the data presented. Also, the watercolor rendering of a memorial and willow trees in the “Deaths” column of the Sanborn-Kelley record seems to have been done because there was no place for it elsewhere. The result, which separates the death dates of parents and children, seems somewhat awkward.
Joseph Sanborn – Lydia Kelley Family Record, Gilmanton, New Hampshire, 1849
Fig. 8 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Joseph Sanborn – Lydia Kelley Family Record, Gilmanton, New Hampshire, 1849. Ink and watercolor on paper. New Hampshire Historical Society, 1984.090.01.
Aaron Hanson – Deborah C. Hall Family Record, Lee, New Hampshire, c. 1850
Fig. 9 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Aaron Hanson – Deborah C. Hall Family Record, Lee, New Hampshire, c. 1850. Ink and watercolor on paper, 11 ½ x 9 ¼ in. (29.2 x 23.4 cm). Image Courtesy of Skinner, Inc., www.skinnerinc.com.
In March 1850, the Heart and Hand Artist was working in Durham, Maine, a little over ten miles south of Lewiston/Auburn, where Abel Tracy commissioned him to complete a lithographed “FAMILY REGISTER”. (Fig. 10) Printed by Kellogg & Comstock in Hartford, Connecticut and probably dating after 1845, it is one of many engraved and lithographed family records that were available beginning in the 1820s.10 Sold by printers and booksellers, and available in a variety of designs, these printed forms contained blank spaces for names and dates that family members could complete, thereby eliminating the need to hire an artist. Printed family records most certainly reduced, and eventually ended, work for many family record artists. Abel Tracy, however, hired the Heart and Hand Artist to complete this printed record, as would subsequent clients.
Lithographed and published by Kellogg & Comstock, Hartford, Connecticut
Fig. 10 Lithographed and published by Kellogg & Comstock, Hartford, Connecticut, ink inscriptions and watercolor paintings attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Abel Tracy – Rachel Orr Family Record, Durham, Maine, 1850. Ink and watercolor on paper, (Framed) 12 ⅜ x 16 ½ in. (31.4 x 41.9 cm). Courtesy of the Huntington Art Museum, San Marino, California, Gift of Jonathan and Karin Fielding, 2016.25.105.
Six months later, the artist was in Cumberland County, Maine, where he painted three records in close succession for members of the Mayberry and Hall families. Each is inscribed with the date and place of completion at the bottom: “SEPT. 2nd 1850 Saccarrappa [sic]. Me.”; “SEPT 11 1850. WINDHAM. Me.”; and “Sept. 12. 1850 CASCO. Me.”. (Figs. 11, 12, 13) Simon (1818–1902) and Mary M. Hall Mayberry (1823–1889) lived in Saccarappa (now Westbrook), Maine. Simon’s parents, Andrew (1778–1869) and Margaret Trott Mayberry (1790–1872), lived in Windham, Maine, and Mary’s parents, Stephen (1798–1878) and Catherine Mayberry Hall (1803–1885), resided in Casco, Maine. Simon’s and Mary’s names are entered on their parents’ family records, making them perhaps unique examples of individuals appearing on records made for their parents’ families and their own. How the three commissions were arranged is not known. After painting Simon’s and Mary’s record in Saccarappa on September 2, the artist traveled north to Windham. Why nine days separated the completion of the first two records, and only one day the second and third records is inexplicable. Also puzzling is the birth year of Clara, Simon and Mary’s daughter, which is listed as a year after the record was completed.
Simon H. Mayberry – Mary H. Hall Family Record
Fig. 11 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Simon H. Mayberry – Mary H. Hall Family Record, Saccarippa, Maine, 1850. Ink and watercolor on paper, 13 ½ × 9 ¼ in. (34.2 x 23.4 cm). American Folk Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Philip M. Isaacson, 1981.21.3.
Andrew Mayberry – Margaret Trott Family Record, Windham, Maine, 1850
Fig. 12 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Andrew Mayberry – Margaret Trott Family Record, Windham, Maine, 1850. Ink and watercolor on paper, 13 ⅜ × 9 ⅜ in. (33.9 x 23.8 cm). American Folk Art Museum, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Phillip M. Issacson, 1981.21.1.
Stephen Hall – Catherine Mayberry Family Record, Casco, Maine, 1850
Fig. 13 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Stephen Hall – Catherine Mayberry Family Record, Casco, Maine, 1850. Ink and watercolor on paper, 13 ½ × 9 ⅜ in. (34.2 x 23.8 cm). American Folk Art Museum, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Phillip M. Issacson, 1981.21.2.
The artist modified the format and composition of his family records in 1853. A record completed on September 12 of that year for the David G. Frederick-Hannah G. Gay family of Norridgewock, Maine, maintains the vertical format, and the memorial and willow trees in the deaths column were also retained (Fig. 14). That approach changed eighteen days later, on September 30, with the record painted for the family of Simon H. Smith and Martha Foss Smith in Dixfield, Maine. (Fig. 15) The sheet is turned sideways, and the memorial and willow trees moved to the top of the sheet. Orienting the sheet horizontally widened it, allowing space for an additional column for marriage dates, while a church in a fenced yard surrounded by pointed arborvitae trees appears on the top. The record contains more information than previous examples, and it is presented in a clearer manner. With few modifications, this new design would be used for all the artist’s remaining family records.
David G. Frederick – Hannah G. Gay Family, Record, Norridgewock, Maine, 1853
Fig. 14 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), David G. Frederick – Hannah G. Gay Family, Record, Norridgewock, Maine, 1853. Ink and watercolor on paper, 12 ½ × 10 ½ in. (31.7 x 26.6 cm). American Folk Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Philip M. Isaacson, 1980.24.2.
Simon H. Smith – Martha Foss Family Record, Dixfield, Maine, 1853
Fig. 15 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Simon H. Smith – Martha Foss Family Record, Dixfield, Maine, 1853. Ink and watercolor on paper, 9 ½ x 13 ½ (sight). Courtesy of Jeff and Holly Noordsy Antiques.
In 1854, the Heart and Hand Artist completed a lithographed family record printed by Nathaniel Currier in New York City for the family of James Niles, and Mearcy Caswell Niles in Turner, Maine.11 (Fig. 16) The four columns of data in the lithograph parallel the artist's design for the Smith record, suggesting that printed family records may have prompted the change. Still, adding only a rebus, hearts, flourishes, and inscriptions to a printed record would not have been as lucrative as fully hand-painted work. Perhaps the artist was traveling with a supply of printed records from which a client could choose as an alternative to a hand-painted record.
James Niles – Mercy Caswell Family Record, New York, New York, and Turner, Maine, 1854
Fig. 16 Lithograph by Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), ink inscriptions and watercolor paintings attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), James Niles – Mercy Caswell Family Record, New York, New York, and Turner, Maine, 1854. Ink and watercolor on paper, 9 ½ x 13 ¼ in. (24.1 x 33.6 cm). Image Courtesy of Skinner, Inc., www.skinnerinc.com.

A birth record includes the name of an individual and their birth date, sometimes adding their birthplace. Related works, generally called tokens of affection, include only a name, and ink or watercolor designs. These modest keepsakes were produced in New England, although less frequently than in Pennsylvania’s German-American communities.12 No other artist working in New England is known to have created as many of these small pieces as the Heart and Hand Artist. Most were likely produced in the early to middle 1850s, despite several being dated well before the artist’s known period of activity. After 1850, printed records had probably begun to diminish the artist's ability to find work. Recognizing that painting family records alone could no longer sustain a livelihood, the artist may have begun to offer birth and marriage records and related works to bridge the gap.

Perhaps in 1851, the Heart and Hand artist painted a birth and marriage record for Eli S. Harnish (1829–1879) and Elizabeth Eshleman (1831–1860) who were married that year and lived in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.13 (Fig. 17) What brought them to Pennsylvania after having worked in northern New England for more than a decade is unclear. Perhaps the artist was from Pennsylvania, and, like James Osborn, had moved to New England, but maintained ties to the State. The production of marriage and birth records was well established in Pennsylvania, which may explain where the idea to produce similar artworks in northern New England originated. Neither conjecture, however, can be verified without knowing the artist’s name.

Eli S. Harnish and Elizabeth Eshleman Birth and Marriage Record, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1851–1855
Fig. 17 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Eli S. Harnish and Elizabeth Eshleman Birth and Marriage Record, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 1851–1855. Ink and watercolor on paper, 7 ¾ x 8 in. (19.6 x 20.3 cm). Private Collection. Courtesy of David Schorsch and Eileen Smiles, Woodbury, CT. Photography by Gavin Ashworth.
Eli S. Harnish was working as a miller in Lancaster County when he and Elizabeth were married. Their birth and marriage record is replete with spelling errors (“Eshelman,” “Ware,” and “Strein. The unusual polychrome designs separating Eli’s and Elizabeth’s names also appear on a record painted in 1852 for the Wells R. Pinkham-Martha P. Gray family of Rochester, New Hampshire. (Fig. 18) Below the Heart and Hand rebus is the name of the minister who married the couple, Rev. John Jacob Strine Jr. (1793–1870), who was said to have married over 5,000 couples during his long ministry.14
Pinkham Family Record, Rochester, New Hampshire, dated Nov 11, 1852
Fig. 18 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Pinkham Family Record, Rochester, New Hampshire, dated Nov 11, 1852. Ink and watercolor on paper, 13 ⅜ x 9 ⅞ in. Image Courtesy of Skinner, Inc., www.skinnerinc.com.

Two children were born to the Harnishes: David in 1853, and Sarah Ann in 1858. Elizabeth Harnish died prematurely in 1860, and the following year, with the start of the Civil War, Eli enlisted in the 12th Pennsylvania Reserve Regiment (41st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry). Wounded at the Battle of South Mountain in Maryland on September 14, 1862, he received a medical discharge in 1863. The next year Eli enlisted in the 79th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. Eli was wounded at the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, and after recovering, he was mustered out in 1865.15 In 1866 Eli and Catherine B. Rhinier (1846–1903) were married, and he was working at a Lancaster County stone quarry in 1870. Of the couple's five children, the last, a son, was born seven months after Eli died. Eli Harnish retained the birth and marriage record that documented Elizabeth, his former wife, and the mother of his first two children, throughout his second marriage. He possibly considered this modest record of the start of their short life together to be of indispensable significance.

Between 1850 and 1856, the artist produced a host of birth records and tokens of affection, with none measuring more that 3 ½ x 4 ½ inches. Most were probably made as mementos for children and youths, although some may have also been intended for adults. The birth record of Sarah E. Foss (1844–1935), who was born in Dover, New Hampshire, is typical of these small art works. (Fig. 19) Sarah's birth record includes a variant of the rebus, with “BORN” substituted for “AND.” Most of these little artworks were likely inserted in a Bible or an album, which helped preserve their vivid colors.

Sarah Foss Birth Record, Strafford, New Hampshire, 1850–1855
Fig. 19 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Sarah Foss Birth Record, Strafford, New Hampshire, 1850–1855. Ink and watercolor on paper, 2 ½ x 3 ½ in. (6.3 x 8.8 cm) (sight). Courtesy of New Haven Auctions.
Tokens of affection omit dates, showing only the individual's name and the rebus. One, made for E. A. York, illustrates the decorative patterns that had always held appeal for the artist. (Fig. 20) Colorful abstract or geometric infill designs appear consistently in uppercase letters, with no two being identical. Angled lines separate the lobes of the hearts to form a diamond that was painted a contrasting color. The open hand has a sleeve with a scalloped cuff, suggesting it is a woman’s, and the cuff is patterned and colored to match the lobes on the heart. The use of initials here may indicate the recipient was male. Men named York with those initials lived in the three New England states where the Heart and Hand Artist worked, but the individual’s identity has not been firmly established.16
E. A. York Token of Affection, Fairfield, Maine, 1850–1855
Fig. 20 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), E. A. York Token of Affection, Fairfield, Maine, 1850–1855. Ink and watercolor on paper, 2 ¾ x 3 ½ in. (6.9 x 8.8 cm). Private Collection. Courtesy of David Schorsch and Eileen Smiles, Woodbury, CT. Photography by Gavin Ashworth.
Asa (1800–1856) and Esther Farrington Conner (d. 1892) were probably living in Henniker, New Hampshire, when the Heart and Hand Artist created a token of affection for their son, Lorenzo F. Conner, the third of their four children. (Fig. 21) Born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, in 1836, Lorenzo was working as a tinsmith in 1861, the year he and Amanda J. Huntress (1841–1924) of Dover, New Hampshire, were married. In 1861 Conner also enlisted in the 7th New Hampshire Infantry Regiment. (Fig. 22) The Regiment was sent to South Carolina where, on July 18, 1863, it was ordered to provide support to Colonel Robert Gould Shaw’s 54th Massachusetts Regiment, which led the assault on Fort Wagner on Morris Island. Conner was killed in the action and was buried in a mass grave.
Lorenzo F. Conner Token of Affection Henniker, New Hampshire, 1850–1855
Fig. 21 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Lorenzo F. Conner Token of Affection Henniker, New Hampshire, 1850–1855. Ink and watercolor on paper, 3 x 4 ⅛ in. (7.6 x 10.5), Courtesy of Don Olson American Antiques and Folk Art.
Photographer unidentified, Lorenzo F. Conner (1836–1863)
Fig. 22 Photographer unidentified, Lorenzo F. Conner (1836–1863), Probably Concord, New Hampshire, c. 1861. Photograph. Present whereabouts unknown. Courtesy of Find A Grave, www.findagrave.com.
The Heart and Hand Artist traveled to Vermont and completed a “Family Record” for Irish-born John Flynn (1813–1890) and Sarah Meighan (1819–1886) in Moretown, on September 3, 1856. (Fig. 23) The artist indicated prominently that the couple was married in 1842 by another Irish émigré, Rev. Jeremiah O’Callaghan (1779–1861). O’Callaghan served congregations in the Burlington, Vermont, area, and he had a reputation as an opponent of usury, publishing a book on the subject in 1824.17 Two hearts incorporating crosses in their design flank a large cross, the only time the artist is known to have included overtly religious iconography. Despite its title, this isn't a family record. After fourteen years of marriage, the couple was childless, so the document is more properly a record of their marriage.
John Flynn – Sarah Meighan Family Record, Moretown, Vermont, 1856
Fig. 23 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), John Flynn – Sarah Meighan Family Record, Moretown, Vermont, 1856. Ink and watercolor on paper, 10 x 13 ⅞ in. (25.4 x 35.2 cm). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Maxim Karolik, 54.1611.
This family record encourages a consideration of the artist’s identity. Three works by the Heart and Hand Artist are inscribed with the name “Samuel Lawhead,” written backwards in two instances. (Figs. 24a, 24b, 24c)18 These rare examples of mirror writing have been interpreted as the artist’s signature. Backward signatures are without precedent in the work of other American artists in the period, and the reason “Samuel Lawhead” is written backwards on two works by this prolific artist is not known.19
Bigelow Marriage Record, Probably Wilmington, Vermont, c. 1850
Fig. 24a Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Bigelow Marriage Record, Probably Wilmington, Vermont, c. 1850. Ink and watercolor on paper, 8 ¼ x 7 in. (20.9 x 17.7 cm) (framed). Courtesy of Don Olson American Antiques and Folk Art.
Detail of Bigelow Marriage Record showing “Samuel Lawhead” backward signature
Fig. 24b Detail of Bigelow Marriage Record showing “Samuel Lawhead” backward signature. Courtesy of Don Olson American Antiques and Folk Art.
Detail of Bigelow Marriage Record showing “Samuel Lawhead” signature from reverse side
Fig. 24c Detail of Bigelow Marriage Record showing “Samuel Lawhead” signature from reverse side. Courtesy of Don Olson American Antiques and Folk Art.
On December 28, 1856, the Heart and Hand Artist completed a record for the Stephen Davis-Sally J. Dyer family of Moultonboro, New Hampshire. (Fig. 25) The most fully-realized record known by the artist, it contains all the previous design elements along with several additions. Even at this late date, the artist was experimenting with new designs, such as replacing the church on the top with a house, which is perhaps a rendition of the Davis home. Two conjoined hearts at the top of the sheet had come to represent the bonding of two individuals in marriage, of individuals to the family, and of love.20 This is among the artist’s largest works, and the heart and hand rebus is now located at the top of the column listing all thirteen Davis children’s names and birth dates.
Stephen Davis – Sally J. Dyer Family Record, New Hampshire, probably Moultonborough, 1856
Fig. 25 Attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), Stephen Davis – Sally J. Dyer Family Record, New Hampshire, probably Moultonborough, 1856. Ink and watercolor on paper, 14 ¼ x 14 in. (36.1 x 35.5 cm). Image Courtesy of Skinner, Inc., www.skinnerinc.com.
It seems appropriate that the artist’s last known work is another lithographed family record. (Fig. 26) Published by Nathaniel Currier, the sheet contains vignettes above each column that illustrate the data found below. This Currier lithograph is very different than the one the artist had completed four years before (Fig. 16). It shows publishers were adding new designs regularly to gain a larger share of the market. The record was completed for the family of John E. and Hannah Welch Bennett of Tuftonboro, New Hampshire on May 17, 1858—six weeks after the birth of the Bennetts’ most recent child, Frank P. Bennett. By now, printed family records had gained a dominant share of this market, and the Heart and Hand Artist surely recognized that continuing to earn a livelihood from painting family records and other mementos would be difficult at best. Exacerbating the situation was the demand for photographic portraits, which had been growing throughout the 1850s. Some enterprising photographers even offered photographic family records. In one instance, daguerreotypes, several of which had been made in the 1840s, were re-photographed with identifying text. (Fig. 27)
John E. Bennett – Hannah Welch Family Register, New York, New York, and Tuftonboro, NH, 1858
Fig. 26 Lithograph by Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), ink inscriptions and watercolor paintings attributed to the “Heart and Hand Artist” (fl. 1849–1858), John E. Bennett – Hannah Welch Family Register, New York, New York, and Tuftonboro, NH, 1858. Ink and watercolor on paper, 10 x 14 in. (25.4 x 35.5 cm). New Hampshire Historical Society, 1981.022.
Unidentified photographer, The Family of N & LA. Ross, United States, probably New England, c. 1855
Fig. 27 Unidentified photographer, The Family of N & LA. Ross, United States, probably New England, c. 1855. Ambrotype, 2 ¾ x 3 ¼ in. (6.9 x 8.2 cm). Dan Smith Collection.
Ultimately, mass-produced family records eliminated the need for specialized artists by encouraging individuals to add information about their families to printed records. The Heart and Hand Artist is unusual in having continued to work even after printed records had forced other artists to leave the field. The Heart and Hand Artist’s career probably lasted just over a decade, but a significant number of works he painted from Maine to Pennsylvania survive. They acknowledge the strength of family bonds over generations and the enduring appeal of the work of this talented and resourceful artist.
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Acknowledgements

The author thanks Jane Katcher, Robert Shaw, and David Schorsch for their support of this project. 

About the Author

Richard Miller is Consulting Researcher at The Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was previously Curator of Sculpture and Decorative Arts at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Virginia. He previously contributed the essay “Fancy Dressing Tables from Sullivan County, New Hampshire” to Americana Insights.

1 The German-American Fraktur tradition mostly documented milestones in the lives of individuals, including births, baptisms, and marriages. Family registers (Familien Register) documenting all members of an immediate family together on a single sheet were also produced in German-American communities although in much smaller numbers. Corinne and Russell Earnest, To the Latest Posterity: Pennsylvania-German Family Registers in the Fraktur Tradition (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press for The Pennsylvania German Society, 2004), 26.

2 Peter Benes, “Family Representations and Remembrances: Decorated New England Family Registers, 1770-1850” in D. Brenton Simons and Peter Benes, eds., The Art of Family: Genealogical Artifacts in New England (Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2002), 14.

3 The most thorough discussion of the work of Murray and his followers is Arthur B. and Sybil B. Kern, “Painters of Record: William Murray and his School” in The Clarion 12, no. 1 (Winter 1986/1987): 28-35, issuu.com.

4 In addition to painting family records and mourning picture, Osborn also decorated a room in the Richard King House in Scarborough, Maine, a writer noted on a visit: “One wall from the dado to the ceiling, was devoted to a painting called ‘Solomon’s Temple;’ another side of the room displayed what was called ‘The Enterprise and Boxer;’ another showed an ‘Equestrian View of Gen. Washington;’ and over the mantel was emblazoned the ‘Arms of the United States,’ occupying the whole wall. I think the artist’s name was Osborn.” J. W. T., “The Mansion and Tomb of Richard King” in Maine Historical and Genealogical Recorder, Vol. II (Portland, ME: S. M. Watson, 1885), 127. The most thorough study of Osborn and his work is Arthur and Sybil Kern, “James Osborn(e), Maine Folk Painter” in Folk Art (Summer 1994): 42-51, issuu.com.

5 Osborn may have scouted Portland before he moved there. A contradictory family record inscribed “Drawn by James Osborn Portland 1827” is in a private collection.

6 Family records that include portraits appear most often in Maine than elsewhere. Besides Osborn, the unidentified painter of the 1818 family record of the Ingersoll family of Columbia, Maine, included nine half-length family portraits. D. Brenton Simons, “Families and Portraiture” in Simons and Benes, eds. The Art of Family, p. 94, fig. 5.

7 Pennsylvania works attributed to the Heart and Hand Artist are discussed in Jane Katcher, David A. Schorsch, and Ruth Wolfe, eds., Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana (Seattle: Marquand Books, in association with Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2006), p. 334, fig. 35.

8 Cynthia Schaffner and Susan Klein, Folk Hearts: A Celebration of the Heart Motif in American Folk Art (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), pp. 9-10, figs. 6 and 7; Edward R. Horgan, The Shaker Holy Land: A Community Portrait (Harvard, MA: Harvard Common Press, 1982), 89. The refined design and fine craftsmanship of Shaker architecture, furniture, and domestic accessories may be credited, in part, to the adherence of Shaker craftspeople to Mother Ann Lee's admonition.

9 An 1843 article described an Odd Fellow in Boston who needed aid. He drew “the secret designation of membership in the order” on a piece of paper, which was recognized by another member who “extend[ed] to me, ragged and wretched as I was, the fellowship of his heart and hand.” J. W. Ingraham, “Extracts from the 'Odd Fellow,'” The Symbol, and Odd Fellows Magazine 1, no. 4 (Boston: Bro. T. Prince, 1843), 83.

10 Georgia Brady Barnhill, “‘Keep Sacred the Memory of Your Ancestors’: Family Registers and Memorial Prints” in Simons and Benes, eds., The Art of Family, 60, 63-64.

11 Mrs. Niles’s first name was spelled “Mearcy” on the family record and her tombstone, and “Mercy” on 1860 census, which had no reason not to simplify it. The same year, the artist completed an engraved record for the Daniel Plumer – Elizabeth Card family of Milton, New Hampshire. Bourgeault-Horan Antiquarians, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Annual Summer Americana Auction, August 6, 2012, lot 47.

12 A New England example is the 1830–1835 birth record made by an unidentified artist for Mary E. Wheelock (1830–1918) of Massachusetts in Beatrix T. Rumford, ed., American Folk Paintings: Paintings and Drawings Other than Portraits from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, in association with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1988), p. 346, fig. 295. This artist most likely produced other examples, but none are known.

13 This is one of three Pennsylvania works attributed to the artist. Katcher, Schorsch, and Wolfe, eds, eds., Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana, p. 334, fig. 45.

14 The Lancaster Intelligencer, April 6, 1870: 3.

15 “Eli Harnish.” Find a Grave. Accessed August 2, 2021, findagrave.com.

16 It has been suggested that this token of affection was made for the E. A. York, who was born about 1807 in Fairfield, Maine. Katcher, Schorsch, and Wolfe, eds., Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence, p. 334, fig. 45.

17 Rev. J. O’Callaghan, Usury, or Interest, Proved to be Repugnant to the Divine and Ecclesiastical Laws, and Destructive to Civil Society. New York, NY: Self-published, 1824.

18 Isaac (b. 1784) and Lydia (b. ca. 1800) Bigelow were living in Wilmington, Windham County, Vermont in 1850. “United States Census, 1850.” FamilySearch. Accessed December 23, 20210, familysearch.org. Two other works include the ca. 1850 Hodgdon – Varney Family Record in a private collection, and a “card” formerly in the collection of Nina Fletcher Little. The Hodgdon – Varney Family Record is in Schaffner and Klein, Folk Hearts, p. 55, fig. 64, and the card from the Little collection is referenced in Gerard C. Wertkin, ed., Encyclopedia of American Folk Art (New York, NY: Routledge, 2004), 251.

19 Two men named Samuel Lawhead who lived in the United States and whose birth dates make them possible candidates for being the artist are known. One was born in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, in 1822, his family moved to DeKalb County, Indiana, in 1839, and he farmed there until his death in 1907. This man's location and occupation preclude him from consideration. The other Samuel Lawhead, “an Irishman 52 years of age,” attempted suicide in 1859 while he was jailed in Hartford, Connecticut, for drunkenness. The possibility that “an Irishman” named Samuel Lawhead, born about 1807, was associated with the Irish-American community, and it was this man who produced the Flynn-Meighan family record in Vermont is intriguing. His arrest one year after the last dated work by the Heart and Hand artist may be significant. However, without information documenting that this man was an artist, he is identification as the Heart and Hand artist cannot be substantiated.

20 Peter Benes, “Family representations and Remembrances” in Simons and Benes, eds., The Art of Family, 22.

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