Nathan Hawley and Family Nov. 3d, 1801

William Wilkie
Date: 1801
Medium: Watercolor on paper
Dimensions: 16 H x 20 W
Inscription: Signed lower right margin: William Wilkie fecit; Inscribed lower margin, center: NATHAN HAWLEY and FAMILY, Novr. 3d. 1801
Credit: Albany Institute of History & Art Purchase
Accession Number: 1951.58
Comments: This watercolor depicting the interior of Albany jailer Nathan Hawley's home is one of the classic "conversation pieces" in American folk art. (This refers to an intimate, informal portrayal of a group engaged in common interests and pastimes such as conversation.) Here we see an early-nineteenth-century, middle-class Albany family casually interacting in the sparsely furnished front room of their Federal-style home. Note how the artist portrays the children's ages by their relative sizes, giving all but the baby the appearance of miniature men and women. Mr. Hawley holds an open account book, Mrs. Hawley holds the baby, and the family group includes the eight Hawley children alive in 1800. He served as Albany's jailer for a decade, and the family lived in a large house attached to the jail. According to family tradition, the artist of this painting was a prisoner in that jail (although city records don't include a William Wilkie as a prisoner.)