Stephanie Porter-Nichols | Smyth County News and Messenger
The Smyth County native died in 1904 in Kentucky. However, her girlish image lives on and is now receiving extra care thanks to restorers in Richmond.
Anna Chastain was born in the Saltville area and lived in the county until she was about 8 years old when her family moved to Kentucky.
Although details are limited, Betsy White, director of the William King Museum of Art, knows that she returned to Abingdon for her studies, probably at one of the private schools in the community. During this time, the prolific portrait painter Samuel Shaver painted Chastain.
Experts who appraised the painting believe the girl was between 10 and 12 years old when the painting was painted, probably between 1845 and 1850.
Samuel Shaver was the nephew of Michael Shaver, who sat on Abingdon City Council and worked as a goldsmith, jeweller, blacksmith and even dentist. White researched Shavers for his book “Backcountry Makers: An Artisan History of Southwest Virginia & Northeast Tennessee”. In an article for A! Magazine for the Arts, White wrote: “Samuel was only 22 when he used this connection to Abingdon to place an advertisement alongside one of his uncles in Abingdon’s Virginia Statesman newspaper announcing himself available as a “portraitist and miniature painter”.
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Samuel Shaver became well known as a portrait painter of children, business magnates, military leaders and politicians, White said.
She thinks Chastain’s family must have had some wealth to afford to paint her and send her to school.
The museum has had Chastain’s portrait in its collection since 2002, but was unaware it was a painting by Shaver, White said. She noted that he rarely signed his work.
However, the museum was looking for a painting of a child to hang in the children’s bedroom of Fields-Penn House, an 1860 Greek Revival style house on Abingdon’s High Street which operated as a museum. There, says White, the painting hung over the fireplace and “everyone loved Anna.”
When the painting was moved to the main museum, White said, it was recognized as a work by Samuel Shaver. The museum had it appraised by experts from the Tennessee Historical Society, who confirmed that it was one of his paintings. Samuel Shaver did most of his work in Tennessee.
Now the William King Museum of Art has been awarded the 2021 Richmond Conservation Studio Grant for the conservation of the portrait.
White explained that the grant is not for a certain amount of money but for any work needed to preserve the painting.
Later paintings by Samuel Shaver, such as this one, featured a landscape in the background.
After years of clearing away soot and dust, White said, “Who knows what they’ll find.”
At the museum, she says, they joke that Anna was sent to the spa. “When she returns,” said White, “it will be in all her glory.”
However, it could take up to a year before she returns. White said the Richmond Conservation Studio is in high demand and the job of restoring a painting is painstaking.
When they bring Anna home, White said, she will go to William King’s permanent collection gallery and the museum will likely hold a reception for her return.
For the grant and this “very special piece of art,” White said, “we’re just thrilled.”
The Conservation Grant is a joint project of the Richmond Conservation Studio and the Virginia Association of Museums. Rebecca Guest, Membership and Development Manager for the association, said in a press release: “VAM is delighted to be working with the Richmond Conservation Studio again on this exciting project. Congratulations to the William King Museum of Art on being selected as the recipient of the 2021 Curatorial Grant.”
Although not much is known about Chastain, White noted that she married and became the mother of five children. Anna Chastain Haynes died in 1904.
The William King Museum of Art is open seven days a week with free admission. For more information on exhibitions or events, visit williamkingmuseum.org or call 276-628-5005
The William King Museum of Art is at 415 Academy Drive near West Main Street or Russell Road in Abingdon.