Anna Gould Crane and Granddaughter Janette
Sheldon Peck was an artist, a farmer, and a man of strong beliefs whose life began in Vermont and ended in Babcock’s Grove (now Lombard), Illinois. His earliest portraits of the 1820s depict somber faces on plain backgrounds and were painted on small wood panels. From the outset Peck innovated a tri-lobe motif resembling a rabbit’s paw that he often used as a pattern on lace and fabrics. By 1828 Peck was married and living in western New York State, part of a movement into the boomtowns along the path of the recently completed Erie Canal.
In 1836 Peck and his family suddenly departed for Illinois. In Babcock’s Grove he hired the first schoolmistress, and his home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. In 1845 he painted four members of the Crane family, pioneers who had migrated to nearby Aurora from western New York State a decade earlier. Janette Wilhelmina (1840–1861) is portrayed with her paternal grandmother, Anna Gould Crane (1774–?). The presence of the large Bible attests to faith as the center of family life. The family Bible descended with a note that this portrait was painted on a linen sheet provided by the family and was paid for with the trade of one cow. The grain-painted trompe l’oeil frame offered the sitter a cost-saving device, while the large scale and bright colors provided a means for Peck to compete with the daguerreotype, an innovation that was quickly rendering the painted portrait obsolete.
Stacy C. Hollander, “Anna Gould Crane and Granddaughter Janette,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.