Art Historian, Ammi Phillips Expert Joins CT House Histories

Art historian Barbara Holdridge joins CT House Histories, LLC, as a consultant as the genealogical research firm expands into identifying the portraits done by American folk artist Ammi Phillips.

Holdridge is a preeminent authority on the work of Ammi Phillips and co-wrote with her late husband, Lawrence B. Holdridge, the groundbreaking book Ammi Phillips Portrait Painter, 1788-1865, with an introduction by Mary Black, that was distributed by Crown Publishers Inc. for the Museum of American Folk Art in 1968.

“Larry and I discovered the totally unknown portrait painter Ammi Phillips when, upon buying one of Phillips’ very rare signed, dated and named portraits, ‘George C. Sunderland,’ we decided to learn as much as we could about the unknown artist,” Holdridge said.

“In our quest, we traveled New England, combed antique shops, were invited into private homes with ancestral Phillips portraits, co-authored articles on our discovery of Phillips, lectured and ultimately convinced even the most reluctant museum authorities that this prolific artist was also the mysterious ‘Border Limner,’ ‘Kent Limner’ and ‘Artist Unknown’ on their walls; all, in fact, representing different periods of his long life. It took the two of us and our one great convert, art historian Mary Black, years to convince all the unbelieving folk art experts; but those erroneous labels in museums everywhere were very gradually corrected to read simply ‘by Ammi Phillips.’”

As she will do for CT House Histories, Holdridge responds to collectors’ requests throughout the country for a determination on whether their portraits are definitely by Ammi Phillips. “Thanks to his prolific career of portrait painter – as he identified himself in each U.S. census – exceptional paintings by Ammi Phillips are still coming to light, often requiring attribution and sometimes subject identification,” she said.

Marks first contacted Holdridge in August 2017 on a whim and since, she said, she feels like she “has been living a dream.”

“To be able to speak and share information with one of the most prominent researchers of Ammi Phillips portraits is an incredible feeling,” Marks added. “Not only is Barbara a repository of information, she is also an incredibly gracious lady. I will forever be indebted to her kindness and assistance. In one of our many email exchanges she wrote, ‘It has been a pleasure for me, I assure you, not only to make your acquaintance, but to revive all the great memories of the sleuthing done over the years by my husband and myself in pursuit of Ammi’s portraits and life history. Come to think of it, I wonder whether he ever did portraits of his own family? Hmmm. And on we go!’

“I’d like to think we have turned up the light – the light that has rekindled her passion for researching Ammi further. I know her light has never gone out but rather it has only been refocused on other pressing projects requiring her attention over the years.”

A native New Yorker, Holdridge is a graduate of Hunter College of the City of New York, with a B.A. cum laude in humanities, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Subsequently, she was inducted into the Hunter College Hall of Fame, the American Women’s Hall of Fame and the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame, each one for her work in discovering and establishing Ammi Phillips as a major American master, as well as for her other innovative work with Caedmon, the groundbreaking spoken-word recording company, which she cofounded with a fellow Hunter graduate in 1952. She later founded and was editor of Stemmer House Publishers, and also served as adjunct professor of writing, editing and proofreading at Loyola University in Baltimore, Maryland.

She also is the author of “Found: A Berkshire Old Master,” published Aug. 29, 1959, in the Berkshire Eagle, and the co-author with her husband of “Ammi Phillips,” published in Art in America in 1960 and “Ammi Phillips: Limner Extraordinary,” Antiques magazine, December 1961.

Holdridge assisted CT House Histories in confirming the research completed on three Ammi Phillips portraits, which the company identified as Phoebe Wing Sheldon and her husband, Egbert Sheldon, and Phoebe’s brother, Preston Wing. The three portraits – which always were grouped together when they were owned for decades by the same family were separated when sold – recently were reunited. Holdridge provided her critique of CT House Histories’ work.

“I am happy to help, having never lost my fascination with Ammi Phillips’ life and works. There is still, in fact, so much more to know, and there’s the challenge,” she said.


Provenance Being Developed

Betsy Sutherland 001

“Portrait of Betsy Sutherland,” Ammi Phillips (1788-1865), c. 1830

CT House Histories, LLC, knows the portrait sitter was Betsy Sutherland and that she was painted by American folk artist Ammi Phillips (1788-1865), but the genealogical research firm does not know all of her owners. CT House Histories hopes to develop an accurate provenance for “Portrait of Betsy Sutherland,” which was painted by Phillips in 1830 in Litchfield County, Connecticut, according to the brief information supplied by its current owner.

Information supplied by iGavel Auctions, an online auction site, reads:

“1062655 – Ammi Phillips, MA, 1788 – 1865, ‘Portrait of Betsy Sutherland’, c. 1830 Litchfield, County, O/C L2QL4 

“Description:  Ammi Phillips, Curtisville, MA  1788-1865, Known as the Border Limner, Kent Limner, ‘Portrait of Betsy Sutherland, Painted c. 1830, Litchfield Co, Conn’, Oil on canvas, unsigned, purchased by present owner from the John Gordon Gallery, 37 W. 57th, N.Y.C, June 1980, with copy of original receipt. Note: this item is the property of Shirley H. Coci of Texas. The contents of her home were previously offered for sale at Kuehnert’s auction on October 18, 2007. This piece did not meet the reserve used at that time, and is now being offered for sale through Litchfield County Auctioneers.”

It was sold through Litchfield County Auctioneers for $10,312.

Many of Ammi Phillips’ portraits were retained by generations of a sitter’s family until they were sold through probate or estate sales.

Anyone with information on the line of ownership is asked to contact CT House Histories at 203-856-6270 or

Subject of 181-year-old portrait by Ammi Phillips identified

Myra Ann Raymond Haxtun Wheeler, c. 1836. Kent, Connecticut. Painted by Ammi Phillips

After more than a year of extensive research, CT House Histories, LLC, has successfully identified the subject of a portrait painted by American folk artist Ammi Phillips.

The portrait, estimated to have been painted by Phillips in 1836 during his “Kent Period,” featured Myra Ann Raymond Haxtun Wheeler, the daughter of a prominent family in the Litchfield County community in Connecticut.

For the full story, read this article.

Ammi Phillips portrait’s owner and location are sought

Portrait of Ammi PhillipsUpdate: “Portrait of a Gentleman” has been located. Full story coming soon.

CT House Histories is seeking help in finding the owner of a specific portrait done by American folk artist Ammi Phillips. The genealogical research firm believes it has determined the identity of the sitter in the portrait, as well as two companion pieces that were owned by the same family for more than 150 years until 1992.

Locating “Portrait of a Gentleman” – as seen in the image on this posting – would help CT House Histories in confirming its research findings. Of particular interest is the letter the sitter is holding in the portrait. If our researchers can determine what is written on the envelope, they would be able to pinpoint the sitter’s true identity and an approximate date the portrait was painted.

Many of the sitters in Ammi Phillips’ portraits are unidentified, but the artist left various clues on the paintings themselves, such as letters, newspapers and books.

For more information on CT House Histories’ research, read this article. Contact us at 203-856-6270 with any tips on the portrait’s whereabouts.