This is a lovely pair of vintage, 1950's, copies of a pair of important silhouettes that were sold in the museum's gift shop. An excellent way to enjoy an important piece of American history. They portray the bust of a woman and man by James Hosley Whitcomb in 1831 and each show the history on the back of the frames. The frames measure 4 3/4" in width and 5 3/8" in length and are in lovely vintage condition.
A biography of J H Whitcomb (1806-1849)
James Holsey Whitcomb was born to Oliver and Hannah (née Hosley) Whitcomb in Hancock, New Hampshire. The Whitcomb family first immigrated from England to Massachusetts sometime before 1632. When James was two or three years old, he became ill with scarlet fever which left him permanently deaf. In 1822, he was admitted to the American Asylum, which was founded in 1817 in Hartford, Connecticut as the nation's first institution for the education of deaf-mutes. James was one of nine deaf children, chosen from forty applicants who received a scholarship from New Hampshire's legislative appropriation of $1000 "for the purpose of educating the deaf and dumb children belonging to this State at the Asylum in Hartford, Connecticut." At school, James learned both written English and a sign language that was to become the basis of today's American Sign Language. He was also introduced to abstract philosophical and religious ideas to which the deaf child had no previous comprehension. The students spent three or four hours each day training for a specific occupation. James learned the trade of shoemaking. There are no specific records showing that the school taught the arts, but the school's principal, Rev. Thomas H. Gallaudet, seems to have included the fine arts among his goals for deaf-mutes. Several graduates of the school are known to have become artists, including Augustus Fuller (portrait painter, admitted to the Asylum in 1824), and William Niblo, Jr. (exhibited paintings at the American and National Academies, admitted to the Asylum in 1826). James graduated from the Asylum in 1827 and by 1830 he was producing both cut & paste and hollow cut silhouettes.
James H. Whitcomb probably spent a number of years as an itinerant artist. Although several silhouettes by Whitcomb of New York residents have been found as well as New Hampshire residents, nothing is known about Whitcomb's exact locations until 1839 when he married Sarah Ann Enos, who had graduated from a New York institution for deaf-mutes. By 1841, the Whitcombs lived in Afton, New York, where Whitcomb worked as a shoemaker. James died suddenly at the age of 42 in 1849. He had fathered three sons by the time of his early death. It is unknown whether he continued his silhouette cutting during the last decade of his life.