| || |
Sculptor Asa Ames working
3 1/4 x 3 3/4 x 5/8 ins
Internet - Original source ill-defined
Posted to Facebook by Elliot Conte, "The Daguerreian Society" group, 18 August 2015. Current whereabouts unknown.
Stacey C. Hollander, August 2009, "Asa Ames: New Discoveries", The Magazine Antiques
(Online, accessed: 21 August 2015)
Sometime between 1849 and his death in 1851 a young carver named Asa Ames in Evans, Erie County, New York, decided to have his picture taken (Fig. 2). He opted for the daguerreotype process rather than a painted portrait, and he purchased a quarter-plate size though the composition he envisioned was complex for the small format. The plate itself is marked “scovills” for the firm that manufactured the coated copperplates used in the daguerreotype process from about 1839 to 1850, but there is no indication of the identity of the photographer or the studio where it was made. The carefully arranged image is at once occupational and autobiographical in nature, and there is a strangeness to the construct that intimates levels of meaning we can only guess at today. The precious cased plate descended in the family of Asa’s brother John Trowbridge Ames, and until recently, when the American Folk Art Museum in New York City opened the first comprehensive exhibition of the artist’s work, was unknown outside that line of the family.
The daguerreotype has degraded to a coppery blue around the edges. Ames is shown sitting at the far left with a block of wood held between his knees. He is sculpting with a mallet and chisel, and a face is just beginning to emerge from the surrounding wood, a face eerily like his own: the artist carving a self-portrait. Behind him leans a violoncello, and next to him, atop the block of wood, stands a full-length carving of a naked child, modestly swathed with an actual scarf and holding what appears to be a tuning fork in his chubby hand. To the right of the child are two previously unknown busts that may have been made by Ames, each with a draped cloth carved around the bottom, that appear to float on a carpet of figured cloth suspended over the head of an unidentified man in the lower right corner. Over their heads hovers a disembodied hand holding a book, a carving that descended with the daguerreotype (Fig. 6). In the bust of the young woman, the subject has long, glossy, wavy black hair that is unlike the treatment of hair in any of the known carvings by Ames, thus provoking the question whether the bust had a wig, or even whether it is a real person posed as a carving. The man in the lower right corner gazes up at the artist with an enigmatic expression on his aquiline face; his body is cut off by the limits of the metal plate. The entire composition suggests a montage of separate images that have been assembled into a single frame, but it is more likely that the image was carefully staged to create the mysterious effects.
An 25 April 2008, New York Times article "Filling in the Contours of a Surprising Golden Age" by Roberta Smith gave the source as "Collection of John T. Ames". (Austin, Texas)