February 10, 2004
Minnesota Couple donate watercolor portraits
Folk art collectors Edwin and Barbara Braman of St. Paul, Minn., have donated a trio of watercolor portraits from their personal collection to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. In the process, the Bramans have reunited through separate portraits what experts believe are several members of an American family. Two of the portraits depict young women, while the third is a double likeness of an older couple, presumably their parents.
The Bramans were familiar with a similar portrait, “Miss Huston,” in the Abby Aldrich Folk Art Museum collection when they purchased the three watercolors in the mid-1980s. “We knew right away that they must all be family members,” said Mrs. Braman. “We always intended to give the pictures to the Folk Art Museum, which is where they belong, but we wanted to enjoy them for a while first.”
The “Miss Huston” portrait is a circa 1825 watercolor that a former owner identified as “Miss Huston, granddaughter of John Huston, founder of the Bank of Union Town, Pennsylvania.” Though research has not yet authenticated the subject’s identity, the portrait is a long-standing favorite with museum visitors who have admired the young woman’s “Sunday best” attire of elegant accessories and fashionable hairstyle.
Though the subjects in the Bramans’ portraits bore no inscriptions, Barbara Luck, Colonial Williamsburg’s curator of paintings and sculpture, concurs they seem to be part of a set. “These works appear to represent the two siblings and parents of the subject of our ‘Miss Huston’ portrait,” said Luck. “Identical, original framing and stylistic parallels in composition, props and attire suggest they were created by the same unknown artist. We are tremendously grateful to the Bramans for helping us reunite this 19th-century family.”
The unusual curly maple veneered frames on all four portraits are equally striking. The top and bottom portions of the frames were cut with graceful C-scrolls and each corner bears a raised corner block, decoratively gouge-cut along one edge and supporting a mother of pearl disc enclosed by concentric circles. The effect is an architectural look reminiscent of door and window treatments popular during the 19th century.
Barbara Braman has loved folk art since she was 12 years old, and her husband Ed shares her passion. Together, they have collected late 18th- and 19th-century folk art and antiques for many years, donating a number of objects to Colonial Williamsburg. Their St. Paul home and gardens were designed and decorated with assistance from Colonial Williamsburg interior and landscape designers.