From 190 years ago a little piece of art we call Miss Charlotte Bell by noted Canadian folk artist Thomas MacDonald. Painted 6 July 1820, the scene is a young girl seated with an open book on her lap, brown candlestand with 3 legs to her left and a window to her right. Also note the wainscoting and the fancy floor design – very hip for 1820. On the little table is a letter and an ink well, indicating that Miss Bell knew how to read and write – a skill that we take for granted today, but not as common as we think in the early 19th century.
The artist, Thomas MacDonald, was born in 1784 or 1785, and traveled the St. John River Valley in the early 19th century making a living painting portraits of local residents, including Samuel Leonard Tilley and his sister Elizabeth in the 1820s. He died in 1862 and is buried at Gagetown. MacDonald, along with Anthony Flower and Reverend Abraham Wood, form an impressive artistic trio working in Queens County in the 19th century. Their art serves as a touchstone to the past that documents our ancestors and our community in a period for which we have few visual or written representations. MacDonald is recognized as a leading pre-Confederation folk artist of national significance and his works are in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Library & Archives Canada, the New Brunswick Museum, and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. Queens County Heritage is privileged to have two of MacDonald’s works already in our collection: a portrait of Daniel Babbit, c. 1829 and the subject of another blog entry, and the McAlpine Family Record, c. 1850.