BRIDGTON – When itinerant portrait painter John Brewster Jr. visited the Bridgton area in 1825, at least 12 early settlers engaged him to capture their likeness, including the family of Enoch Perley.

In the age before photography, having a portrait painted was the only way to capture a person’s features. Many itinerant painters made their living by traveling from town to town fulfilling this need. Today these portraits are treasured as folk art.

Three original paintings of Enoch, John and Sarah Perley will be exhibited for the first time in Bridgton since they left about 1900 at the Woodworkers and Artisans Show at Narramissic in South Bridgton on Saturday and Sunday, July 10 and 11.

Brewster was unusual in that he was a deaf-mute, but he became one of the most highly regarded artists of his day. Imagine his difficulty in negotiating with his customers as he moved from town to town. Born in 1766 in Connecticut, he lived with his brother, Royal Brewster, in Buxton after 1797. He was active from 1797 to 1832.

Brewster’s distinctive style of using a blue undercoating to his canvas gives a depth to his work and his sitters project serene beauty and solid self-confidence.

Three portraits of the Perley family were painted in May and July of 1825 and hung for many years in the Perley home. They left Bridgton around 1900 when a descendant in Connecticut inherited them.

Their whereabouts was unknown until 1988 when they were sold at Christie’s Auction House in New York City, and joined the California collection of Alice and Murray Braunfeld. At that time, the family descendant had copies made of the three portraits, which have since hung in the parlor at Narramissic in South Bridgton.

Squire Enoch Perley was 76 when painted. He had been one of the Minutemen who came to Lexington’s defense on April 19, 1775, and routed the British. In 1777, he moved to the settlement that became Bridgton.

Much of his family’s correspondence is on file at the historical society as he took pride in recording the town’s early development. His sister married John Peabody, who relocated to South Bridgton in 1784.

Enoch’s son, Gen. John Perley, born in Bridgton in 1779, was a brigadier general in the Massachusetts Militia, and is painted in his blue and gold uniform. He married Sarah Treadwell of Littleton, Mass., in 1805. Sarah’s portrait depicts her in a daytime lace cap reading a small red book. All three were leading citizens of Bridgton.

The Braunfeld Estate was sold in January of 2004 by Sotheby’s Auctions in New York City, and local residents who bought the Perley paintings will share them with visitors to Narramissic during the 14th annual Woodworkers and Artisans Show on July 10 to 11 and the Tasha Tudor Exhibit from July 17 to 26.

The paintings are in remarkably original condition, retaining their original mahogany veneered frames, have never been cleaned or repaired and are regarded as the best of Brewster’s paintings of his later period.

Their sale created much attention and was featured in trade newspapers such as the monthly Maine Antiques Digest and the Newtown (Conn.) Bee weekly. This will be the only time the portraits will be exhibited this summer. The Woodworker’s Show is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with an entry fee of $5 for adults.

Narramissic, the Peabody-Fitch Farm owned by the Bridgton Historical Society, is located on Ingalls Road, off Route 107, in South Bridgton. Proceeds will benefit the society. Phone 647-9954 for more information.


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