WESTFIELD When visitors walk into the Reed Room at the Westfield Athenaeum and look up to the right, they will see two 19th century portraits of two young women who were painted by artist Joseph Whiting Stock in 1847.
The portraits are of sisters Mary and Eliza Ann Thayer, who were members of the prominent Thayer family who resided on the Thayer homestead, also known as the "100 Acre Farm." The homestead existed where the Big Y sits today.
Christopher Lindquist, director of the Westfield Athenaeum, said that the way in which the Athenaeum obtained the two portraits is an "amazing story."
He said that an Athenaeum board member brought an article to a board meeting about an antiques show in Connecticut, which stated that the two portraits were up for sale after being in private hands for 40 years.
Lindquist explained that the board discussed the portraits and whether or not the Athenaeum could afford to purchase them.
"These are treasures that really belong in Westfield and they belong at the Westfield Athenaeum," he said.
Local antiques dealers Dick and Paul Patterson also saw the article and went online to research the Thayer family, according to Lindquist.
He said that there was a person in Utah who knew about the history of the Thayer family and when the Pattersons called, the man suggested that they call a Thayer descendant, who donated the funds to allow the Athenaeum to purchase the portraits.
"This person stopped by and said she would donate," Lindquist said.
He said that the donor would like to remain anonymous, but said that she has a trust fund in the name of Lucius Harrison Thayer, which she used to donate the funds.
Lindquist explained that because the Athenaeum is a non-profit organization, it was less expensive to purchase the paintings with the donated funds than if the donor were to have purchased them herself.
Joan Brownstein, a folk art dealer, assisted the Athenaeum with the purchase of the paintings and will give a lecture next month about the painter.
He said that the sale, which he described as a "detective story" took about three weeks.
"We are just thrilled to have them," he said. "The Thayers were one of the most prominent families in the mid-19th century [in Westfield]."
He explained that having portraits painted showed that a family was "well to do."
According to Lindquist, there were five daughters and one son in the Thayer Family. Eliza and Mary were the two youngest daughters. He added that it is a mystery whether or not the four other siblings had portraits painted.
Irene, Adaline and Suvia were the other daughters and Lucuis was the Thayer son.
"It is curious that only two would be painted," he said.
He said the paintings are in great shape, but did not have frames.
Joan Brownstein was able to find two 19th century frames, which were cut down to size, Lindquist said.
According to Lindquist, Stock was a native of Springfield who was crippled most of his life, but was extremely productive.
"He was considered to be a folk artist," he said.
Local historian Robert Brown explained that the original Thayer home was built in 1868 on property that was originally owned by the Fowler family.
He explained that the original Thayer came to the area and inherited the land, which stretched from Silver Street down into Southwick, from an aunt with whom he lived when he first arrived.
"The house was huge," he said, adding that it contained 30 or more rooms.
According to Brown, a wing of the house was taken off and moved to the front of the property in 1946, to what is Broad Street today, because there was just one elderly woman living in it alone.
He added that she moved into the smaller house with her niece and nephew.
The larger home, which was set farther back was torn down. Brown said that the home made from the wing was torn down when the woman died in 1952 or 1955.
He said that there is a Thayer homestead in eastern Massachussetts, which includes an original colonial home that has been turned into a museum.
"The family was important in town, and we had almost nothing here connected to the family," Brown said.
Although there are thousands of descendants of the family, almost no one has any photographs of them, according to Brown.
Brown and other volunteers have been sorting through pieces of history that have been stored in the attic of the Athenaeum for the Edwin Smith Historical museum and have found many treasures.
However, Brown said that he has not found much about the Thayer family. He added that there also does not seem to be any photographs of the actual mansion.
Lindquist did find that the two Thayer portraits are featured in a the book "The Paintings and Journals of Joseph Whiting Stock," which was written by Juliette Tomlinson in 1976.
Lindquist explained that Stock kept a detailed journal and the works he had done would have been recorded. However, the journal featured in Tomlinson's book only reaches up to the year 1846. Stock lived from 1815 to 1855.
Lindquist and Brown both said that perhaps the remainder of the journal is out there somewhere, or Stock stopped writing it.
The two portraits will be officially unveiled on June 8 during the lecture by Brownstein, which will take place at 7 p.m. in the Reed room at the at the Athenaeum.
Her lecture will place the Thayer portraits in the context of Stock's body of work.