Bust-length, pastel portrait of a right profile of a young woman with closely coiffed, short dark brown hair who is wearing two strands of chain around her neck and a black dress, and with scattered pine trees on a hill in the background. She may be a member of the Munn family of western Massachusetts. The matboard is inscribed "Ruth Bascom." in pencil. Born in Leicester, Mass., Ruth Henshaw Bascom (1772-1848), the daughter of William Henshaw (1735-1820) and Phebe Swan Henshaw (1753-1808), was raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, where she married her first husband, Asa Miles in 1804 and who died in 1805, and her second husband, the Rev. Ezekiel Lysander Bascom (1777-1841) in 1806. The Rev. Bascom served as minister of the Congregational Church in Phillipston, Mass., for 21 years. In 1820 he was dismissed by his congregation and the Bascoms moved to Ashby, Mass., where he served a church for 14 years. After his retirement, Bascom spent winters in Savannah, Ga., with his daughter, but Ruth Bascom stayed in New England visiting with friends and relatives. Around 1839 they moved to Fitzwilliam, N.H., where he seems to have served a church on a semi-retired basis and died in 1841. Ruth Bascom spent her remaining years boarding in Ashby and traveling throughout Massachusetts and Maine, and south to Savannah, Charleston, and Norfolk.. Ruth Henshaw Bascom is an example of an artist whose work progressed from a hobby to a professional career. As a minister's wife, Bascom began drawing as a pastime, but was soon traveling to other areas to draw portraiture on commission. Ruth Bascom's career is documented not only by her portraiture but also by the artist's personal journals, which she meticulously maintained from 1789 to 1846 and in which she recorded making over a thousand portraits for money, services in kind, and as tokens of affection. In 1801, she made what appears to be the first entry concerning the profiles for which she is famous; the frequency of these entries increases in the 1820s and 1830s. The largest number of surviving profile portraits have been found in western Massachusetts. Bascom rendered all her portraits in life-size profile. In order to create a realistic image, she first outlined a cast shadow of the sitter on her drawing paper, and then colored the picture using pastel crayons.
Ruth Henshaw Miles Bascom (1772-1848) was a prolific portrait artist in Federal-era Massachusetts. Born in Leicester, Massachusetts, Ruth was the oldest daughter born to American patriot and Minutemen organizer William Henshaw (1735-1820) and his wife, Phebe Swan Henshaw (1753-1808). She was raised in Worcester, Massachusetts where she married Dartmouth College professor Asa Miles in 1804, who died shortly thereafter in 1806. Following the untimely death of her first husband, Ruth married Reverend Ezekiel Bascom, a prominent clergyman in Massachusetts who, along with his wife, traveled extensively through England and the United States. The artist's career is documented not only by her portraiture but also by her personal journals, which she meticulously maintained from 1789 to 1846. These exceptional records, housed today at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, provide extensive insight into the subjects of more than two hundred portraits completed by the artist. Bascom's portraits are executed in profile, either life-size or slightly smaller, with the projected shadow traced in graphite and ears and minimal modeling added, then colored in pastels. The backgrounds are plain, often in shades of green and blue.
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