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May 26, 2009

CW acquires rare, exquisite Asa Ames sculpture

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has acquired one of only 12 known woodcarvings confidently ascribed to 19th-century folk sculptor Asa Ames. “Amanda Clayanna Armstrong,” a life-size, full-length figure of a three-year-old child regarded as one of Ames’s finest efforts, is a gift to the folk art collection from Barbara Rice, a descendant of the subject. Dr. Rice made the gift in memory of her grandfather, Arthur T. White, and her mother, Eleanor Rice.

“We are deeply grateful to Dr. Rice for placing this nationally important piece of American folk art permanently in our care,” said Ronald Hurst, Colonial Williamsburg’s chief curator and vice president for collections, conservation, and museums. “The likeness of Amanda Armstrong will delight and edify museum goers for generations to come.” The sculpture has been on loan to the foundation since 1994.

Amanda Armstrong was the youngest child and only daughter of Dr. Thomas Armstrong and his wife, Joanna, of Evans, N.Y. Family oral tradition holds that the Armstrongs housed and cared for the artist when he fell ill and that Ames created Amanda’s likeness in 1847 to repay the kindness.

Asa Ames (1823-1851) immortalized in wood his family members, neighbors and friends in Erie County, N.Y. Included in the artist’s small body of work are carved portraits of young men and women, and children. The finely-observed renderings have few antecedents in early American folk sculpture due to the private nature of the portraits. Like much painted portraiture of the day, the representations are iconic in their simplicity.

Amanda Armstrong and nearly a dozen other examples of Ames’ work are currently part of “Asa Ames: Occupation Sculpturing,” an exhibition organized by the American Folk Art Museum, New York, with support from the Leir Charitable Foundations in memory of Henry J. & Erna D. Leir, the Gerard C. Wertkin Exhibition Fund, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The exhibition is on view at Colonial Williamsburg’s Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum until January 3, 2010.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution guests interact with history through “Revolutionary City®” – a dramatic live street theater presentation.

Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7281