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 Margaret Wilkins Reed  (1892 - 1983)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts/New Hampshire/Vermont      Known for: Child portrait and marine painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following exhibition review of child portrait painting of Margaret Wilkins Reed was written by Nancy White and posted April 11, 2009 on Wicked Local Cohasset, an online publication of Cohasset, Massachusetts.

"Historical Society displays portraits circa 1940"

In the 1930s and 1940s Cohasset was a changing place. The days of a small village of fishermen, a group of natives and part-time summer residents from the city were quickly becoming the thing of history books. People began choosing Cohasset as a place to live.

Margaret Wilkins Reed, an art teacher at the former Cohasset Country Day School, captured a slice of Cohasset's changing times by painting a great number of children's portraits. 

Over the past year, Cohasset resident Mary Hartshorne has spent many hours researching and making phone calls to bring the portraits back to their point of origin. About 20 have been gathered from far and wide to make up a special exhibit at the Cohasset Historical Society.

"This will be the first time all the portraits will be in one place," said Hartshorne, the curator of the exhibit. The opening of the portrait gallery will be held on Sunday, April 19 from 3 to 5p.m. at the Cohasset Historical Society building (The Pratt Building) at 106 South Main St. "Our intent is to show a group of Cohasset children during a specific period of time."

The subject is close to Hartshorne as Reed painted her at age 10. While she was quarantined for the mumps (which she never got) she sat for five days in order for Reed to capture her likeness. The large portrait has hung in her home on Border Street, the home she grew up in, since it was completed.  

Nancy Garrison, one of the exhibit organizers, is also a portrait subject. She recalls sitting for the portrait in the summertime in Reed's Highland Avenue house. Then seven-years-old, Garrison looked out at the garden while her mother read to her.

"She has a style all her own," said Garrison, adding she had a keen color sense. All her portrait subjects seem to be emerging from a dark background.

Garrison said the children in the portraits were all children whose parents were good friends — the mothers would chat and the fathers would go sailing together out the Cohasset Yacht Club in the summer.

"We were all children of the depression, but depression or not our parents wanted this talented woman to paint their children," said Garrison.

Reed was born in Boston and raised in Newton, Mass. She studied painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her teachers included artists John Singer Sargent, Frank Benson, Philip Hale, William Paxton, Frederick Bosley. Some of her teachers were visiting instructors in the Portrait Master classes. She taught at the private Cohasset Country Day School, which went up to fourth grade, from 1930 to 1942.

Reed was a prolific artist and continued commission portrait painting into her late eighties. Fittingly, the portrait gallery will have photograph of a portrait done of Margaret Reed at age 26.

Tracking down Reed's former students, many of who have moved away from Cohasset and are scattered across the U.S., took a great bit of effort on Hartshorne's part.

"It was simply detective work," said Hartshorne, who has been at the sleuthing for over a year. "It's been the most fun ever!"

Describing the process as a sort of backwards Final Four tournament bracket, Hartshorne says she first made phone calls to her fellow classmates who were still in Cohasset or had recently been in Cohasset. Those first sources gave her different leads as to where people were now living and whether they believed they sat for a Reed portrait. Her detective work led her to call former Cohasseters now living as far away as Florida and Maine.

In many cases, her contemporaries were overcome when Hartshorne called out of the blue.

"Everyone I talked to was warm, receptive and cooperative," says Hartshorne. Without having to make a single follow-up call the portrait subjects agreed to lend their portraits to the Historical Society for the exhibit. Many of them were shipped or brought to Cohasset by the subject's children.

"There was such a loving warmth around this effort," Hartshorne says.

She expects most of the young children starring in the portraits — now very much all grown up — will be in attendance at the exhibit's opening.

The opening will be held on Sunday, April 19 from 3 to 5p.m. at the Cohasset Historical Society building (The Pratt Building) at 106 South Main Street.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Known especially for her brightly colored portrait paintings of children, Margaret Wilkins Reed, married to David Reed, was active in Boston and Cohasset, Massachusetts. She also was in Walpole, New Hampshire and Brevard, North Carolina.

She was a student at the Boston Museum of Fine Art and studied with John Singer Sargent, Frank Benson and William Paxton.

Peter Hastings Falk, Editor, Who Was Who in American Art

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