May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Masonic Mourning Piece for Reverend Ambrose Todd

Eunice Pinney (1770-1849) Guides

Windsor or Simsbury, Connecticut


Watercolor, pencil, and ink on paper

13 7/8 x 11 3/4"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Museum purchse, 1981.12.7

Photo by John Parnell

Masonic Mourning Piece for Reverend Ambrose Todd

In the post-Revolutionary era, academies of learning for girls proliferated in the New England landscape. Even so, the education Eunice Griswold Pinney received was rather remarkable for the day, and she was known as “a woman of uncommonly extensive reading.” Pinney’s first marriage ended in divorce. Her second marriage, to Butler Pinney in 1797, proved more stable, and it was at this time—as a mature woman rather than a schoolgirl—that she began to paint the watercolors for which she is remembered today. In this tribute to Reverend Ambrose Todd (1764–1809), the rector of St. Andrew’s Church in Simsbury from 1787 to 1799, Pinney has freely adapted the codified elements of mourning art into an original and personal composition. During his tenure Reverend Todd married the Pinneys.

Todd was inducted into the Morning Star No. 28 Lodge in East Windsor on April 4, 1798. His Masonic affiliation was important to him; his gravestone bears symbols of the fraternal order. Pinney, too, chose to replace the standard plinth, urn, and other mourning symbols with Masonic iconography. The inscription in the spandrel expresses great sorrow at Todd’s passing, not in a stock sentiment but in Pinney’s own hand and language: “The Tribut [sic] of a friend who loved the living and laments the dead.” As Scottish Lodges abhorred conformity and celebrated individuality, this personal testament would have been pleasing to Pinney’s friend.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Masonic Mourning Piece for Reverend Ambrose Todd,” 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.