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Prior-Hamblen School

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"Societies of painters have been organized in large cities to exploit the portrait, with some men doing the face, others the hands, and still others the clothing." Picturesque Itinerary of the Hudson River and the Peripheral Parts of North America, 1828, "Prior-Hamblin School," in Chotner et al., American Naïve Paintings, 1992


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The Prior-Hamblin School of artists made plain-style portraits with simple forms and little detail. When it is impossible to determine whether William Matthew Prior or his brother-in-law Sturtevant Hamblin created them, they are attributed to the Prior-Hamblin School. The Prior and Hamblin families of Maine were united with the 1828 marriage of William Matthew Prior to Rosamond Hamblin. They were a good match, as Rosamond came from a reputable family of skilled artisans and Prior was an established decorative painter. In the year of their marriage he placed an ad in the (Portland) Maine Inquirer offering "side views and profiles of children at reduced prices." By 1841 the Prior and Hamblin extended families had moved together to Boston, where they lived in the home of Rosamond's brother while they established their own "Painting Garret." Prior traveled as far south as Baltimore making portraits for a fee. He and his brother-in-law Sturtevant Hamblin developed a portrait style with a sliding pay scale according to the amount of detail requested by the sitter. Prior advertised these portraits as "flat pictures . . . a likeness without shade or shadow at one quarter price." For a higher price (about twenty five dollars), the portraitists would produce more detailed likenesses. (Hollander et al., American Anthem: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum, 2001)