PRESS RELEASE August 24, 2011
The Portrait of Joseph Albert Wells
Collection of the Society, gift of the Wells Family, 2009.
Society Receives Prestigious Conservation Grant
SOUTHOLD, NY. The Society is pleased to announce that it has received a grant in the amount of $5,280 from the Great Hudson Heritage Network to help conserve two early portraits of Esther Albertson Wells and Joseph Albert Wells that form part of its permanent collection.
The Wells family is one of the earliest families to settle the North Fork of Long Island, arriving here in the middle of the 17th century. The branch of the family that is the subject of the portraits were very important to the 19th century development of Southold. William Homan Wells (1806-1871) was born and raised in Southold, the son of John Calvin Wells (1761-1810) and Amy Homan Wells (1764-1852). He was an entrepreneur and opened his first “general” store on the ancient family’s original home-lot on the corner of Youngs Avenue and Main Road sometime in the 1830’s. A success from the start, he soon opened what would become the Southold Hotel, a very popular local hostelry that would remain in operation until the 1920’s. During his lifetime he was postmaster and notary for Southold and was known for his “intelligence and high character” throughout the community. In 1835 William married Esther Tuthill Albertson (1814-1846) with whom he had one child, Joseph Albert Wells (1836-1896).
The two portraits themselves are unusual in that they are part of the only known group of portraits of a single North Fork family still known to exist intact. The group includes two other portraits, those of William Homan Wells and his mother, Amy Homan Wells. The two depicting his wife and young son were all painted during a trip taken by the Ohio artist Sylvester Genin (1822-1850) through eastern Long Island during 1840 and 1841. Genin’s collection of letters, which were published shortly after his untimely death, report on his various stops on Long Island. In them he notes that in October of 1840 he began boarding in Southold, presumably at William’s hotel as it was the only one in town, and that he used his rooms there to paint portraits. It is speculated that he may have painted these three portraits for William Wells in lieu of a cash payment for his stay at the hotel as he states in his letters the cost of his room was “nothing.” The portraits stayed in Southold, descending through Joseph Albert Wells’s line, until they were removed to New Jersey in the early 20th century. They remained there for almost a century and until they were returned to Southold as a gift to the Southold Historical Society in 2009 and 2010.
The Greater Hudson Heritage Network strives to provide support for conservation treatments that are executed on the highest professional level. The field of conservation is continually changing, with pioneering research and dissemination of findings on innovative materials and techniques. Although there are many paths into the field of conservation, we acknowledge practitioners who have demonstrated high levels of proficiency and advanced knowledge, adherence to the ethics and standards of the American Institute of Conservation (AIC), and are recognized for their expertise in the museum field. In 2010's grants, treatment will be provided by 20 individual conservators. These grants lead to public impact outcomes beyond the actual conservation of museum objects, including new interest in the state's incredibly varied collections, and increased public awareness of the museum's role as steward, and has proven a spark to further institutional, strategic, financial and long-range conservation planning. Beyond these outcomes, grant recipients report that Conservation Treatment funding prompts greater use of collections (for exhibition, web content and loan), enhanced interpretive capability, and expanded opportunities to educate the public about art, history, humanities, the science of conservation, and museum work, itself. This year 52 grant applications were received at Greater Hudson from institutions in 20 counties of New York State, requesting an aggregate of $280,512.00 in grant support. 24 awards totaling $101,503 were recommended by a peer panel of conservators, curators and museum professionals. Of the 24 institutions that received funding 15 received full funding, 9 received partial funding. 2011 Conservation Treatment Grant awards range from $1,430 to $7,500.
Seventeen of the applicants were applying to the Conservation Treatment Grant program for the first time. Of these 52 institutions, twenty-seven had budgets under $300,000, fifteen had budgets over $300,000 but below $1 million and ten organizations had general operating budgets over $1 million. Organizational operating budgets of 2011's grant recipients span a stunning range from $2,000 to $15.4 million. The Greater Hudson Heritage Network sends its congratulations to all the 2011 Conservation Treatment Grant Recipients.