Aaron Dean Fletcher

 

FLETCHER, AARON DEAN
(1817–1902),
a portrait and landscape painter, worked principally in Vermont and New York during the nineteenth century. Little is known about him, but stories to define his life andartistic career have been constructed, working largely from the canvases he left behind. Described as “a trifle queer” and having pockets filled with gold, Fletcher isremembered for wearing a long black cape and high silk hat. At an early age, he learned to play the violin and taught himself to paint using home-made canvases and pigments. The youngest of David and Sally Lovell Fletcher’s ten children, the artist was born in Springfield, Vermont. Never marrying or settling down, Fletcher chose a transient lifestyle that allowedhim to travel for portrait commissions, his only apparent means of employment. Some experts speculate that he painted portraits in exchange for room and board.According to existing inscriptions on his paintings, from 1835 to 1840 Fletcher executed likenesses of subjects who lived in Springfield, Vermont, and nearbyRockingham and Saxtons River. These early works are characterized by the sitters’ features appearing heavily contoured, at times outlined in black. Expressions aresolemn, lips are tight, and eyes are intense. Frequently using a distinctive, flat olive-brown background color, he also painted subjects on neutral grounds, and employedvarious props, such as books, flowers, and family pets, to enliven compositions. By 1840 the artist had moved to Keeseville, New York, where his brothers lived,allowing him to make portraits of individuals who lived in the surrounding Essex and Clinton counties. Existing canvases depicting three New Hampshire residentssuggest that Fletcher may have traveled across state borders for work. Having always wanted to see the West, in the mid-1850s he made a journey to La Porte,Indiana, leaving behind a handful of portraits. His later canvases reveal the influences of photography as well as high Victorian portrait conventions.Although Fletcher’s last known likeness, depicting Mary Broadwell, dates from 1862, he continued to list himself as an artist in official documents of a later period.Several known landscape paintings from this period also convey a breadth of artistic skill beyond portraiture. In 1880 he was recorded as a portrait painter in thefederal census for Chesterfield Township, New York, and by 1886–1887, he is listed as a painter in the city directory for Plattsburgh. The artist died homeless inKeeseville, New York, at the age of eighty-five on December 27, 1902, leaving what few assets he had to the local Home for the Friendless.
See also
Painting, American Folk; Painting, Landscape
.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Baker, Mary Eva.
Folklore of Springfield.
Springfield, Vt., 1922.Burdick, Virginia, and Katherine Lochridge.
Portraits and Painters of the Early Champlain Valley.
Plattsburgh, N.Y., 1975.Burdick, Virginia, and Nancy C.Muller. “Aaron Dean Fletcher, Portrait Painter.”
The Magazine Antiques,
vol. 115 (January 1979): 184–193