Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


Portrait of Benjamin S. Edwards

c. 1838
Collection of the Springfield Art Association

Portraits were sometimes commissioned to mark important life events. This portrait of Benjamin S. Edwards was created in 1838, the year he graduated from Yale. It was also the year he turned twenty-one and attained his legal majority, allowing him to come into his inheritance from his father, who died when he was 15.

The sophistication of this portrait indicates that it was likely painted on the East Coast by someone who had received formal academic training in the arts. Contrast this artist’s command of shading, highlights, and detail to the portrait of Ninian Edwards by self-trained Illinois artist James William Berry. A portrait by an academically-trained, professional artist would have been a luxury item available only to the upper strata of Springfield society.