Encyclopedia of American Folk Art

By Gerard C.Wertkin; Lee Kogan | Go to book overview
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DALEE, JUSTUS (1791-?)

was a painter of distinctive miniature portraits and family records. He was born in Cambridge, New York; he married Mary Fowler in 1816. Dalee worked in Cambridge, West Troy, Rochester, and Buffalo, New York, and in Massachusetts. One of his portraits depicts a resident of Berea, Ohio, but whether Dalee lived or worked in that state has not been determined. The earliest evidence of his interest in art lies in a sketchbook in which he referred to himself as "Professor of Penmanship." It also contains watercolor, pencil, and ink drawings, dated 1826 and 1827. Dalee's earliest known commission is a family record from 1834; the latest, a portrait from 1845. No portrait from before 1835 has been found to date. Dalee was listed in the 1847 Commercial Advertiser Directory for the city of Buffalo as a "portrait painter," and as a "grocer" the following year, indicating that he had probably ceased painting.

Dalee's half-length miniatures, drawn in pencil, ink, and watercolor on paper, typically show sitters posed in profile, facing left; early works, however, show bodies facing forward with the head turned to the left. Fashionable coiffures and costumes are executed with precision, while ears, as well as the transition from neck to shoulders in early women's portraits, were difficult for Dalee to execute convincingly. Painted oval spandrels cause the portraits to resemble miniatures on ivory, which may have been intentional.

The colorful family records that Dalee made when he resided in Cambridge and West Troy are similar in design and among the most attractive of the genre. Using commercial preprinted family registers, Dalee augmented the forms with ink and watercolor images, and inked inscriptions that are ample evidence of his penmanship skills. The records feature paired fluted columns at the sides wrapped with festoons and supporting an arch, and above them is printed and inked, "IN GOD WE HOPE." Above the left columns is a man painted full-length, and an anchor, symbolizing hope, while below, a red cradle; above the right columns stands a woman dressed in mourning attire beneath a willow branch, and below that, a black coffin. Dalee typically painted a pair of conjoined red hearts below the center of the arch.

Ironically, daguerreotypes (early small-scale photographs produced on a silver or copper-coated plate, often displayed in a unique gold-plated or velvet frame), which became widely circulated by the 1850s and probably ended Dalee's career as a portrait painter, resembled Dalee's portraits in size, and included decorative, oval mats. Daguerreotypists offered novelty and a low price, which Americans have always embraced, and against which Dalee could probably no longer compete.

See also Family Records or Registers; Miniatures; Mourning Art.

Rumford, Beatrix T., ed. American Folk Paintings: Paintings and Drawings Other Than Portraits from the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center. Boston, 1988.
D'Ambrosio, Paul S., and Charlotte M. Emans. Folk Art's Many Faces: Portraits in the New York State Historical Association. Cooperstown, N.Y., 1987.



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