Sarah James Eddy was a force in the Portsmouth community for over forty years, but her work was forgotten until recently.  Last fall, Sarah was recognized during the 21st annual Historical Induction Convocation at the Historic Bristol Statehouse and Courthouse, but many Portsmouth citizens are unaware of her accomplishments in the arts and in social causes.

I first became aware of Sarah when Marge Webster and I were working on an exhibit for the Portsmouth Historical Society. We stopped at the portrait of the woman that hung in the back of the historical society museum. We had very little information about it. We knew this was a painting from the Social Studio and that the artist, Sarah Eddy, was part of an artist colony at Bristol Ferry. Through newspaper databases we learned that the portrait was of Mrs. Burke, the mother of Emeline Eldredge who was a good friend of Sarah Eddy.  Mrs. Burke was portrayed preparing a Thanksgiving meal or at least the vegetables for that meal.  Sarah Eddy was a vegetarian and newspaper accounts tell of her meatless Thanksgiving feasts.

Mrs. Burke by Sarah J. Eddy

We began with very little information, but the harder we looked the more we found that evidence of Sarah’s work in our community was all around -” Hidden in Plain Sight”.

I found postcards of the Social Studio on Ebay and I began to collect them. Since Sarah was a noted photographer and founder of the Social Studio, I assume the photos are Sarah’s work.    They helped me to understand that the Social Studio was a marvelous art center for Portsmouth.  This was a project financed by Sarah Eddy and directed by her friend Emeline Eldredge.   Located across the street from the Eddy Home on Bristol Ferry Road, the basic building still exists as a private home.

This is a 1905 description of the Social Studio: “A large room used for assemblies, one end of which is occupied by a small stage, is furnished simply and artistically. Potted plants, a pianola, a huge open fireplace, oil paintings on the walls and a good library – all lend great charm to the big room, which is a delightful retreat for the young people who flock there from adjoining farms. Lectures, readings, musicals and social gatherings are frequently held. Classes were given in pyrography, drawing, water color painting and raffia.”

The Social Studio was meant to keep young people away from gossiping, loafing and “Immature lovemaking.”  The Social Studio was also a place were young people could earn money through their arts and crafts.

The Studio became a cultural center for Portsmouth’s adults.  Christmas celebrations, charity fund raisers, lectures and musical performances were all centered in the Social Studio.  From newspaper articles we know that activities went on at the Social Studio for at least 30 years or more.

This is the first of three blogs on Sarah James Eddy.  Other blogs will focus on her social causes and her artistic work.

Children working on crafts at the Social Studio

Social Studio postcard – GSchmidt collection