Colonial Williamsburg: Project Preview I

One of the projects I have been working on at Colonial Williamsburg is researching the sitter of a recently acquired painting by the Foundation. This painting is remarkable in that it was passed down in the family since the 18th century after its creation. Additionally, the painting was done by William Dering, a known artist who was working in Williamsburg in the mid 18th century. It’s exciting to find artists who worked in Williamsburg as it really helps to tell the story of the colonial city. Dering was principally a dancing master, actually teaching at the College of William and Mary for some time while he was in Williamsburg, and he also dabbled in a number of other arts that he advertised in local papers, attempting to make a living with the skills he had. There are only a few known Dering portraits and Colonial Williamsburg has a majority of these, appropriately.

In regards to the sitter, Dering painted a vibrant portrait of Joyce Armistead Booth, a woman of class and exemplary of the rising aristocracy in budding Colonial America. She was married to a merchant in Gloucester, where they lived at Belleville, a plantation home that her husband, Mordecai Booth, had inherited and acquired through his father’s skillful buying up of property in the area. My research focused on finding anything I could about Joyce and her son George, of whom there is also a portrait in the collection by Dering. Together, the two tell a story about planter aristocracy in Tidewater Virginia, about aesthetics and goals they wished to portray through portraiture. Unfortunately, very little information on Joyce and George exists and I still cannot find birth or death dates for Joyce. However, the lack of information about an individual can sometimes tell a history on its own.