Friday, March 25, 2016

In Search of Orlando Hand Bears

I have been curious about the artist Orlando Hand Bears ever since discovering the portrait of the astronomer, inventor and clock maker, Ephraim Niles Byram. Since then I've been searching for more about the artist's life. In my quest for information, I am realizing that researching Orlando Bears also means unearthing the stories of the people that he portrayed. The artist has imbued his subjects with life and personality. Each work creates an urgency in the viewer to know the subject of the painting. I want to know, "Who are you?"
Double Portrait of Mr. and Mrs. Job Babcock 
attributed to Orlando Hand Bears 1837
The portrait of 28 year old whaling captain Job Babcock and his 20 year old wife Mary Ann was painted during the "golden era" of the whale fishery which brought great wealth to Sag Harbor and other New England seaports. According to an article that I found in the East Hampton library the double portrait was commissioned in honor of the couple's marriage. I wonder if the intimate gesture of the note being passed between them signifies their marriage contract or hints at the correspondence that the couple would keep by way of foreign ports and passing ships during Job's 22 years in the whale fishery. Job Babcock (1809 - 1887) was born in Sag Harbor. His wife Mary Ann Hull (1817 - 1897) was born in Hartford, CT.  Job wasn't the only sea farer in his family. His six brothers were all whaling captains and Mary Ann's seven brothers were sea faring men as well. Babcock retired from the sea in 1851. Job and Mary Ann moved to Clyde, New York (upstate near Rochester) where they spent the rest of their lives on a farm. via 
The town of Sag Harbor is a living museum.
Oakland Cemetery was founded in 1840. It is here that I begin my search for Orlando Hand Bears. 
Feb. 10 1851.
Orland H. Bears
Ae. 39
Receive O earth his faded form
In thy cold bosom let it lie
Till Christ by his Almighty word,
Shall bid it rise no more to die.
His life was gentle and serene his mind,
His morals pure in every action just.
A son, a husband and a parent kind
As such he lies lamented in the dust.
Orlando Hand Bears is buried in Oakland Cemetery between his son, Orlando E. Bears and his father Moses Bears. His wife Mary Louisa is not buried in the family plot, but their children, all of five who died much too young, are buried here. Bears' eldest son Alfred (who spelled the family name Beers) lived the longest to the age of 43. 
Portrait of Alfred William Bears
by his father Orlando Hand Bears
Orlando's younger sister Frances Effie is buried nearby in the family plot along with her family by marriage. Frances married David J. Youngs a local Tin and Iron Smith. Ads in the local paper show that Orlando and his brother in-law-entered into a business partnership.
Many years before it became an Apple Bank, the corner of Main Street and Spring was the location of the J. Harris Bakery. From May 1847 to December 1850 (according to the newspaper ads) Orlando H. Bears and David J. Youngs' partnership in the Tin and Sheet Iron Ware Manufactory was located here. I am sure Orlando's painting skills were a valuable contribution in creating the "Japanned Ware" which was  extremely popular at the time.
The Corrector June 9, 1847
19th c Tray via
Orlando Bears collaboration with his brother-in-law was later in his career and towards the end of whaling's golden age. He passed away in February of 1851 after discontinuing his partnership with his brother-in-law in December of 1850, suggesting that he may have been ill. I have much more to do in researching his early career. It is said that he may have studied with another local artist, Hubbard Latham Fordham. Fordham was also a distant relative. Hubbard Fordham's Great Grandfather, Daniel Fordham and Orlando Bears Great Grandmother, Prudence Fordham were brother and sister. via The Sag Harbor Whaling and Historical Museum has been very helpful in assisting my search but there is much more to be accomplished.
Portrait of Mary Louisa Whipple Bears
by Orlando Hand Bears
The Oakland Cemetery gravestones include death dates and the departed's age, but not a specific birthday. I guess that was the custom of the time. Perhaps the family Bible contains family member's exact birthdays. Orlando Hand Bears age was listed as 39 on his gravestone, but notice in the Sag Harbor Corrector lists his age as 41. 
Bears Family, Oakland Cemetery (birthdays approximate)

Moses Bears, died July 12, 1853, age 67 (B. 7/12/1786)
Miranda Bears (widow of Moses) died July 10, 1880, age 89 (B. 7/10/1791)
Children of Moses and Miranda Bears
Alfred W. Bears (drowned near Greenport) October 26, 1833, age 20 years, 6 months, 12 days (B. 4/14/1813)

Orlando H. Bears, Died February 10, 1851, 39 years (B. 2/15/1815)
Corrector notice posted age as 41, 1850 census lists age as 38

Edward W. Bears, died August 2, 1822, age 6 years, 3 months (B. 5/2/1816)

Frances E. wife of David J. Youngs, died October 11, 1853, aged 32 years (B. 10/11/1821)
Orlando H. Bears marries Mary Louisa Whipple in Groton CT 1838
Mary Louisa (Born 1819) buried in Groton, CT ?
Children of Orlando H. & Mary Louisa
Alfred W. Beers son of Orlando H. and Mary Louisa Bears, died Jul 14, 1883, aged 43 years, 9 months, 27 days. (B. 9/17/1839) “He died as he lived a pure upright man”

Frances Mary, daughter of Orlando H. and Mary L. Bears, died October 24, 1842, aged 5 months 27 days. (B. 4/27/1842)

Orlando E. Bears, died October 25, 1862, age 17 years, 5 months. "His death was caused by the accidental explosion, in this village, on the 16th October 1862" (B. 5/25/1844)

Delancy, son of Orlando H. and Mary L. Bears, died April 3, 1848, age 6 weeks (B. 2/21/1848)

Heber, son of Orlando and Mary Louisa Bears, died August 18, 1849, aged 3 months, 11 days (B. 5/7/1849)

Yes, for the first time in possibly over 100 years, I did plant flowers at Orlando H. Bears grave.


  1. Happy easter are following such a trail with interest and care:)
    I hope you get all the info you want..amazing how much older the subjects look n the piantings.
    Love the flowers by his grave.

  2. Such a researcher you are, solving a mystery almost. Great post & love the new buds...I'm sure Orlando does too.

  3. Hi! How is your research going? I am very interested in this artist!!


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