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Art Dealer Tales Part 4 – Reuniting the Family — Blue Heron Fine Art Blog

Art Dealer Tales Part 4 – Reuniting the Family

by Jim Puzinas on June 24, 2009

Ellie Sturges was an industrious volunteer for the Haddam Historical Society’s hosting of the Connecticut Spring Antiques Show, one of the longest running and finest antiques show in the country. Held every spring in March, this show is recognized as one of the finest exhibitions of early American made furniture and accessories. She planned to help out where she could, and browse the show on opening day. She brought her brother-in-law David Sturges along with her for the companionship.

Our gallery was invited to be an exhibitor at this prestigious show several years earlier and each year we would try to outdo our prior year’s booth. This year, we were eager to showcase a truly authentic 19th century presentation, featuring a beautiful period Duncan Phfye sofa (circa 1810) and a number of great 19th century paintings from our inventory. However, we needed something more significant to pull the booth together. Although I had been living with the Leeds family portraits for about 10 years and had no real desire to sell them, I felt that if I presented them along the back wall, their presence could really make the booth incredible.


Booth of Blue Heron Fine Art at the Connecticut Spring Show 2004

Booth of Blue Heron Fine Art at the Connecticut Spring Show 2004

During the opening hour, many furniture luminaries were present including the famous Albert Sack, who was kind enough to pass judgment on our sofa, explaining that he had an almost identical version in his own collection. As much as he was interested in examining the sofa, I noticed his eyes continuously wandered to the four family portraits above.

“I really appreciate those portraits” he said. “It is rare to have an entire family displayed together.” I explained, that while I didn’t expect to sell them, if the right opportunity came about to keep them together, perhaps in a museum collection, I would consider selling them. He wished me luck, and continued on.

Sometimes activity in your booth draws more people into see what all the fuss is about.  Obviously, while he was there, Albert Sack had drawn a lot of people into our booth. No sooner had he left, when I noticed one man spending an inordinate amount of time not just looking at the Leeds family portraits, but reading and rereading each descriptive wall tag.

 ”Can I answer any questions?” I asked. The man spun around and announced “I’ll be right back” as he quickly exited the booth. In the distance, I could hear him yell “Ellie!”

David Sturges returned moments later with Ellie in tow. She approached the portraits individually and then read each tag. As I looked at Ellie in profile, it was unmistakable. Ellie Sturges’ long aquiline nose was a dead match to the nose in the Samuel Leeds portrait!

A look of surprise on her face was the only clue I had. Until she announced, to no one in particular, “I think I am related to this family!”

A number of people gathered around, all asking relevant questions. “How long have you had these portraits?” “Where did you get them?” I answered the same questions many times over and over. But it was the genealogical research that really set Ellie going.  After first checking with a relative who maintained the genealogical records for the Sturges family, it was confirmed that Samuel Leeds was, in fact, Ellie’s great granduncle!

Ellie agreed to buy the portraits. The family was reunited!

After the sale, Ellie pulled me aside and thanked me for keeping the family together. In her words, she “now considers me a part of the family!” After all I had protected the Leeds family portraits under my roof for almost a decade.


When I delivered the portraits to Ellie, I learned a little more about the family and the journey that the family portraits had made. It seemed that the original seller of the portraits had an older unmarried sister living in New Hampshire. Long ago, the unmarried sister had agreed to allow the married sister to have the family portraits to pass on to her children when the time came. Divorced and in need of funds, the other sister sold them without ever consulting the unmarried sister. The last I heard, Ellie was arranging a lunch date with the unmarried sister at the Publick House in Sturbridge, MA where she would be able to share her family portraits.

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Lori Woodward Simons June 24, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Wow, what an amazing “coincidence”. It turned out to be a blessing to all involved. Thanks again Jim for sharing this story… or history… I should say.

Jim Puzinas June 24, 2009 at 3:23 pm

This tale demonstrates that many dealers act as collectors in trying to preserve things for future generations. Also truth is always stranger than fiction. Who could ever have guessed what that outcome would have been when I first made the purchases a dozen years ago! I am better for it and so is the Sturges/Leeds family!

Kathleen Krucoff June 24, 2009 at 6:47 pm

What a wonderful conclusion to this remarkable story about the family portraits. It is great that they were kept together and now one of their descendants has them in her care. I am certain they are cherished. Just confirms my belief that things happen for a reason.

Wendy Campbell June 26, 2009 at 5:06 am

A great ending to a really enjoyable story. Hope to read more of your Art Dealer Tales soon!

Diann Haist June 28, 2009 at 10:10 am

Fantastic story! Art, Art Dealers and Genealogy have a hand-in-glove relationship. Serendipity at it’s best.

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