Portrait of the artist as a young girl: the journals of Sarah Gooll Putnam
“She was very happy always, and amused herself. A great part of her time was spent in imagining herself a horse, and prancing around the shrubbery—and in trying to be an Artist—For other recollections, I refer you to herself.” When Harriet Upham Putnam wrote this introductory memorandum to her daughter’s diary in 1861, she might not have imagined how fully Sally, then ten years old, would pursue both her artistic ambitions and her journal writing. At a time when few women were admitted to the ranks of professional artists, Sally Putnam grew up to become a respected portrait painter, patronized by Boston’s elite and featured in major exhibitions. Her diary, which she maintained for over fifty years, spans twenty-eight volumes, each extensively illustrated with drawings, watercolor paintings, and photographs that provide an extraordinary visual record of her life and her growth as an artist. The daughter of a prominent Boston family, Sally Putnam displayed a keen eye and an expressive talent from an early age. Her journal drawings offer remarkably frank, child’s-eye glimpses of nineteenth century life, ranging from sketches of her family, toys, and pets to depictions of the curiosities of P. T. Barnum’s Aquarial Gardens, processions of soldiers leaving to fight in the Civil War, and scenes from her family’s travels in both America and Europe. My presentation of selections from Sarah Gooll Putnam’s early journals will examine what her self-consciously creative efforts reveal about her engagement with the world.
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