Last week I went with Jon Prown and Sarah Fayen of the Chipstone Foundation to see an amazing chest of drawers in a private collection in the Milwaukee area. The surface of the chest is covered with impressively detailed paintings of people, birds, animals, and plants. At the center is a painting of a long, low building with the inscription “New Hope/ Portage Co. AD 1870/ Wisconsin.”
The chest was originally attributed to a Rhode Island man named John Colvin, but research by David Schorsch revealed a more likely maker: George R. Lawton of Scituate, Rhode Island.
According to census records and the publication Our County, Our Story: Portage County, Wisconsin (Malcolm Rosholt, 1959), Lawton appears to have lived in New Hope, Portage County, Wisconsin between about 1856 and 1876, when he returned to Rhode Island until his death in 1885.
The big questions now are:
–Did Lawton paint the chest while living in Wisconsin, or was it a “memory piece” he created in Rhode Island?
–Did he build the chest as well as paint it? If not, who was the cabinetmaker?
Further research should yield some exciting answers…