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Abigail Munro Bosworth Portrait American Folk Art Museum


Artist Sheldon Peck (1797–1868) Location Dundee, Illinois 1840 Gift of the families of Abbie Louise Bosworth Williams and Eleanora Bosworth Black

Increase Child Bosworth (1812–1888) and Abigail Munro Bosworth Simonds (1809–1883) descended from a family with deep roots in the American colonies. The siblings were born in Greenfield, New York. As did many families in the early years of the nineteenth century, they migrated to the pioneer communities of Illinois in 1836, settling in Dundee and later relocating to Elgin. Increase graduated from Chicago University and served as a trustee there throughout his life. He was also a trustee of the Baptist Theological Seminary, Elgin Academy, and Northern Illinois Hospital for the Insane. He showed a talent for business early and was quick to recognize opportunities, becoming one of the wealthiest men in the region. By 1875, Bosworth turned from mercantile interests to found a private bank that then merged with the First National Bank of Elgin; he served as its president until his death. Bosworth was also a founder of the major railroad lines to connect Illinois with the rest of the country. Increase is noted in a history of Kane County for his influence on the "side of improvement, progress, justice, truth, and charity." Increase was remembered as a fond and playful grandfather, and his sister as a gentle, loving presence. Both were portrayed by the artist Sheldon Peck, who had also migrated from western New York State—first to Chicago and then on to Babcock’s Grove (now Lombard), Illinois. Abigail was already married when her portrait was painted, but Increase was not to wed until four years later, which perhaps explains why the siblings were portrayed rather than a husband and wife. The portraits feature magnificent trompe l’oeil frames directly painted on canvas, befitting the future business titan. This was a visual device that Peck devised for a finished effect without the additional cost of framing. Abigail’s dress is sprinkled with the rabbit’s paw motif that also became one of the artist’s leitmotifs. The portraits were painted just after the new technology of photography was introduced into America, ultimately replacing painted likenesses. Although Peck may not yet have faced real competition from the innovation, the illusionistic frame, large scale, rich color of his portraits, and personal relationship with the sitters continued to be incentives for potential commissions. In addition to his painting activities, Peck was an influential and proactive member of his community. He hired the first schoolmistress to operate out of the summer kitchen of the Peck farmhouse, and was also an ardent abolitionist whose home was a station on the Underground Railroad.

Stacy C. Hollander, "Increase Child Bosworth, 1840, Abigail Munro Bosworth Simonds, 1840," exhibition copy for American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum Collection. Stacy C. Hollander, curator. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2020.

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated with new research. Records are reviewed and revised, and the American Folk Art Museum welcomes additional information.

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