Workhorse

Maple or cherry, original painted decoration.
Height 15 ½ inches, width 18 inches, depth 4 ¼ inches.

Elegantly carved from dense hardwood and realistically painted with a surface reminiscent of fine porcelain, this workhorse, with its head lowered and hoof raised, is a masterpiece of American sculpture. Oral history maintains that this workhorse and a variety of other carvings were made for display in a Vermont country store, however fewer than a dozen sculptures by this unidentified Vermont artist are known. The subjects range from sulky drivers and farm scenes to a figure of Buffalo Bill Cody (1846–1917) and a funeral procession with a horse-drawn sled bearing a coffin containing a corpse, establishing the artist as an unusually keen observer of rural life, popular culture, and local traditions as well as a master carver and joiner.

The related published examples by this artist are the funeral procession in the collection of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, illustrated in Jean Lipman, Elizabeth V. Warren, and Robert Bishop, Young America: A Folk Art History (New York, 1986), p. 143; a horse and sulky in the collection of the American Museum in Britain, illustrated in Laura Beresford, Folk Art from the American Museum in Britain (London, 2011), pp. 89–91; the standing horse and the figure of Buffalo Bill Cody in the collection of the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum, illustrated in Herbert W. Hemphill, Jr., ed., Folk Sculpture USA (Brooklyn, NY, 1976), p. 50; a horse and sulky now privately owned, illustrated in “Collection of Susan and Raymond Egan,” Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, NH, August 5, 2006, lot 801; and a grouping with a farmer and wife with horse drawn sleigh, illustrated in “American Beauty: The American Folk Art Collection of Stephen and Petra Levin, Part I,” Sotheby’s, New York, January 23, 2016, lot 1440.

Provenance:
Shelburne Museum, Shelburne, VT; Collection of Dr. William S. Greenspon, New York; Collection of Philip Morris Companies, New York; “Important Americana, Furniture and Folk Art,” Sotheby’s, New York, January 19, 1997, lot. 1562; Collection of Ralph O. Esmerian, New York; David Wheatcroft, Westborough, MA; David A. Schorsch and Eileen M. Smiles, Woodbury, CT; Private collection.

Published:
Robert Bishop, American Folk Sculpture (New York, 1974), p. 360, no. 680.
Richard Miller, “Folk Sculpture: For Diversion and Utility,” in Jane Katcher, David A. Schorsch, and Ruth Wolfe, eds., Expressions of Innocence and Eloquence: Selections from the Jane Katcher Collection of Americana (New Haven, 2006), pp. 244, 384–85, no. 157.
David A. Schorsch and Eileen M. Smiles, By The People, For The People: Fine American Folk Art, 1780-1940 (Woodbury, CT, 2023), no. 15.

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