1844-1880. A blank book, 8vo., half leather and marbled boards. The accomplished, but unidentified amateur artist (a pencil note on the front pastedown mentions "Sally Bent"), has done 15 watercolors of birds, flowers, and scenes, plus two pencil sketches, several with caption titles. The first watercolor (detached) is of a wreath of flowers carefully drawn and colored, then cut out and laid down on the page, with a "ribbon" label printed with the caption "Wild Flowers of Milton...184[4?], and a short 9 line ode to flowers written in a small, neat hand. The second watercolor is likewise a wreath of flowers surrounding another hand-written poem, this one dated 1844. In addition to delicately rendered flowers, local scenes, and birds such as the Baltimore Oriole and the Carolina Parrot, the artist has drawn two sketches of foreign travel scenes, "View of Mount Lebanon with its convents," and "Neapolitan Castles."
The separate sheets, most approx. 15 x 11 in., one smaller one, approx. 7 x 5 in., are all delicately rendered individual flowers, wreaths, or bouquets. On four of the numbered sketches the artist has used the same cut-out, overlay technique as the one in the blank book. All of the numbered drawings are labeled with the month the flower was drawn, several are also dated either 1855 or 1865. A few have been given two different sketch numbers, perhaps indicating they came from two different series of sketches. The artist's pencil note in the margin of one of the drawings states that No. 5 is missing and was "stolen, with five others belonging to another set." Another pencil note mentions Blue Hill, near Milton. A note in the margins of plate no. 7 reads: "This painting was from a twig from a tree that grew close to Mr. Charles Crehore's yard, a striped apple." Another lengthier note gives some indication of the anonymous artist's background. It is on the verso of one of the larger unnumbered sheets of sketches: "Unfinished, I laid it right down & went raving crazy. I intended to have painted Spring, Summer, Autumn, & Winter, and had purchased four sheets of Bristol board, for the purpose. I had gone on so far, with my spring, when I heard something so distressing, for I knew there would be years of evil resulting from it that it sent me to Worcester Insane Assylum [sic] for nine years-- & it has proved even worse than I expected." Perhaps this is a reference to the outbreak of the Civil War? Item #62002
There are no signatures on any of the drawings, merely an unidentified pencil note in the front of the drawing book, "Bent or French, Sally Bent." There are a few clues, though sparse, to the possible identity of this skillful artist. The Bent family was well known in Milton, Massachusetts. In 1801 Josiah Bent, a Milton baker, developed a biscuit, the water cracker, capable of withstanding long sea voyages without spoiling. Bent's Cracker Co. later supplied Civil War soldiers with provisions in the form of hardtack. Albert Teele, in his "History of Milton, Mass., 1640-1887 [Boston: 1887], mentions that the Bent family property adjoined that of Mr. Charles C. Crehore, near the river and Paul's bridge. Teele's book also contains an extensive chapter on the flowers, trees and birds of Milton, a source of local pride. The Worcester Insane Asylum opened in 1832, by order of the Governor of Massachusetts, to help care for the mentally ill members of the communities nearby, one of the first of its kind in the state. [Records from its first 80 years of operation are housed at Harvard University, according to the HOLLIS catalog].