Seeking Work Of Folk Portrait Painter And Silhouettes By Puffy Sleeve Artist

Ann Francis and Welcome Congdon by the Puffy Sleeve Artist, circa 1830, each 3½ by 2½ inches. Private collection.

To The Editor:

We are members of the American Folk Art Society and have been researching early American folk portrait painters for quite a number of years. Our ninth published article, “Images of the American People — Small Portraits from 1820-1850” appeared in the January issue of Antiques and Fine Art.

Our current folk portrait painter research is on an obscure artist named Ira Chaffee Goodell. We have uncovered a wonderful cache of original documents written by Goodell. This includes 266 letters, his personal account book, an autobiography written for a nephew when Goodell was 71 and even his handwritten family bible. We have been examining this material for more than a year and are planning to submit an article for publication, which will use extensive quotes from these documents, so that Goodell himself will be describing his life and painting career.

Today, Ira Chaffee Goodell (1800–1877) is an almost unknown American folk portrait painter. Briefly, Goodell was an extraordinary self-educated youth. He first trained as a lawyer but soon found that he preferred painting and spent seven years, with 56 moves, as an itinerant portrait painter, first in western Massachusetts and then around Hudson, N.Y., where he married. In 1834, he did something unheard of for a folk portrait painter as he moved to New York City where he found great financial success as a “common” portrait painter for the rest of his life. Goodell’s melodramatic letters describe the events of his life, his involvement with the latest pseudo-scientific fads, such as mesmerism and the use of galvanic batteries to treat every disease, the politics of his day and some unusual religious views. In our search for all additional Goodell portraits, we will gladly provide the owners of Massachusetts and Hudson Valley portraits with the date when their portrait was painted.

A group of highly stylized silhouettes with cutout profile heads and painted bodies that are often brightly colored were done by an unknown individual who has been nicknamed the Puffy Sleeve Artist based on the exaggerated dress sleeves in the women’s portraits. Along with antiques dealer Samuel Herrup, we are preparing an article that will illustrate two examples of these silhouettes that have a history of being done by Ezra Wood from western Massachusetts. Wood probably learned to make silhouettes from his father-in-law. Our research has found that Wood’s life history coincides with what is known about the Puffy Sleeve Artist. We will explain why the dated examples are from 1830 and 1831 and the basis for the bright coloration found in many of these silhouettes. Images of additional Puffy Sleeve Artist silhouettes are sought, particularly those with known sitters or dates, and any signed Ezra Wood silhouettes.

For either of these research projects, we would be most appreciative if readers of Antiques and The Arts Weekly tell us of additional portraits by these artists. Examples of the portraits we are seeking are shown on this page.



Suzanne and Michael Payne

PO Box 1050

Carmel NY 10512

845-454-6610 or

Ira Chaffee Goodell (1800–1877), portraits of Cynthia and Asahel Goodell, 1837, each 30 by 27 inches. —Photos courtesy Cowen’s Auctions, Inc.


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