A collaboration of the Vermont Historical Society and the Helen Day Art Center
Portraits are created for many reasons—as keepsakes of a loved one separated by distance or death, as a memento of an important life event, to preserve the image of an important person for future generations, or for pure vanity. Their historical value has always been important because frequently a portrait is the only image that survives of a particular person. In our increasingly visual world, the ability to put a face with a name is invaluable when an individual's story is being told.
This online exhibit is just a sample from the more than forty portraits shown at the Helen Day Art Center during the first three months of 2002. Featuring works from the late-18th to the mid-20th centuries, the exhibit included oil paintings, silhouettes, early photographs, a marble bust, and more. Prominent Vermonters such as senator Justin Morrill and William Jarvis were featured alongside lesser known, but equally fascinating, figures like "'Sleeping' Lucy Cooke," a 19th-century spiritualist and healer.
This exhibit is no longer on view at the Helen Day Arts Center. Contact the Vermont Historical Society Museum for information about portraits in the collections of the VHS.
"I have one request to make...It's this: I want you and he should get yr. Portraits painted—You can't leave a greater legacy to yr. Children...just imagine the pleasure one would have in looking at the Portrait of a deceased Father & Mother." —Letter from Elisha Sabin to his mother, December 10, 1848