The Painters

primus copy

The family of Rebecca Primus had been in Hartford since the eighteenth century. When the older James children were young, she had recently returned from teaching freedmen. Professor Farah Jasmine Griffin has written a fascinating book about the letters exchanged between Primus and a local servant. Beloved Sisters and Loving Friends: Letters from Rebecca Primus of Royal Oak, Maryland, and Addie Brown of Hartford, Connecticut, 1854-1868, was published by Ballentine. It offers a portrait of life North and South with generous doses of insight into the women’s personal lives. Rebecca’s brother, Nelson, became a portrait painter and migrated between Boston and Hartford.

Peonies in a Bowl 1885
Peonies in a Bowl 1885

Another artist, who lived in Hartford and Rockville as well as Paris, was the still-life painter Charles Ethan Porter. Samuel Clemens was his patron for a time. He gave the two oldest James girls paintings as wedding presents. He and Willis were also acquaintances, perhaps friends, of the Clemens family butler, George Griffin. All three men attended Hartford’s A.M.E. Zion Church. It was probably through Griffin that my grandmother was able to collect the autographs of the entire Clemens family.

And finally there was the Wheeler family. Robert W. Wheeler was the minister of the famous Talcott Street Congregational Church (now Faith Church). He performed the wedding ceremony when Anna and Willis’s oldest daughter married. And the Wheelers’ daughter, Laura, was the same age as the youngest James girl. Laura Wheeler Waring became a world-renowned painter. She gave Anna and Willis’s granddaughter – my mother — one of her paintings as a wedding present. [I had a slide of her water color but it did not reproduce well.]


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