P1060744We received this artist box a number of years ago.  It had belonged to Claire Fay, a longtime board member of the Portsmouth Historical Society.  The paints are relatively new, but the box itself dates from a hundred years ago.  A note said it originally belonged to Bristol Ferry Art Colony member Mariette Letourneau – the great aunt of Claire Fay.  This item raised some questions.  Who was Mariette Letourneau?  Was there an “art colony” at the Bristol Ferry neighborhood of Portsmouth.

Finding Mariette Letourneau was not so easy. Genealogical resources show an aunt for Claire that was named Mariette Letourneau, but the birth date doesn’t match the date given on the card that was left with the box.  Was she an artist at Bristol Ferry?  Perhaps she stayed with the Fay family and they did live on Bristol Ferry Road.

Was there an artist colony?  There were certainly a number of artists that lived in the Bristol Ferry neighborhood.  Many of them were drawn there by Sarah J. Eddy. Sarah was a noted photographer, sculptor and painter.  Her most famous works are portraits of Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony.  Sarah would invite artists to come visit and stay at her home (if they were female) or at Willowbrook,  her guest house.

Among the most famous artists in the neighborhood was Oscar Miller who had international fame.  He married into a family with Bristol Ferry roots and kept a studio there. Miller’s studio is still there under the care of his grandson.

Sophia Mitchell was another artist who had a national following.  She traveled extensively and had studios in Brooklyn as well as Bristol Ferry.  There were as many as six studios along Bristol Ferry Road.

Bristol Ferry had a reputation for having the quality of light that artists love – beautiful morning light and gorgeous sunsets.fullsizeoutput_167