Friday, May 6, 2011

Favorite Artist Fridays: Joseph Whiting Stock


Primitive art (often used interchangeably with naieve, self-taught, and sometimes low-brow) is frequently ignored in the K-12 classroom. That, I think, is rather unfortunate. Primitive artists often approach art-making in the same manner as children. So, when that art from is ignored in the classroom, we, as art teachers, are missing a huge opportunity to demonstrate that our students have commonalities to accomplished artists.

It is only within the past 100 years that women and non-Western-white persons have been recognized as being capable for creating art. For many of my students -and probably yours- artists are dead white guys who have little in common with their culture. Teaching about Primitive art offers teachers a chance to incorporate a wider variety of artists into the classroom. It is more equitable.

Joseph Whiting Stock (he is a dead white guy, but still is primitive)

Joseph Whiting Stock was an American painter. The first few generations of American painters were almost entirely self-taught. There were few art schools in existence in early America and artists learned how to draw through correspondence courses and pamphlets. Of course, folks like Audubon and Copley are the exception. But, if you remember, Copley emigrated to Europe and made the statement about American art: “There has not been one portrait bought that is worthy to be called a picture in my memory. Was it not for the preserving the resemblance of particular persons painting would not be known in this place. The people generally regard it no more than any other usefull trade" (ouch).


Joseph Whiting Stock came from a humble beginning and became a portrait artist as a means to support himself. Stock suffered a traumatic injury as a young man that has been assessed by modern medical researchers (because the nature of his injury and life is that interesting) and thought to have been of a spinal-cord variety. He also later managed to accidentally set fire to himself, and then recovered from that too. Ultimately, he succumbed to tuberculosis; a disease that seems to have plagued his family in particular.


Stock supported himself by traveling from town to town in New England and painting small, charming portraits. Most of his income came from painting, oilograms, or death portraits. He would spend the greater part of the winter painting babies in cribs sans faces. He would then take these canvases with him through his travels. When he was commissioned for an oilogram, he would take a pre-prepared canvas over to the deceased's home and paint in the baby's face.

Stock, while prolific, lacked formal training. Often the angle of the baby is not accurate for the angle of the baby's face. . .Which makes the oilograms all the more creepy (which I -and my students- perversely love).


Stock kept a detailed diary of his life that was later discovered by a descendant. Today, it is published and anyone can read it. It makes for an entertaining read as Stock writes about himself in very funny terms.

As a final note, Stock worked with his medical contemporaries to design a wheel chair (sort-of) for himself and participated in medical experiments (using his own body).

I think the most important part to mention to students is that Stock worked both literally and figuratively with what he had. He wasn't very good at drawing hands, so he would have sitters place them behind their backs and hid people behind chairs. My students are always delighted to know that artists are real, just like them, and hide things they can't draw (well) too.

Links about JWS





1 comment:

  1. That was such an interesting post. I was watching TV and heard briefly about "oilograms" and quickly googled it and found your page! Interesting how he had pre-painted blank faced babies on canvas ahead of time. Thanks also for posting the link to his journal, I'm going to check it out next.

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