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Twelve Vignettes of Portsmouth

Vignettes of Portsmouth

EARLY PORTSMOUTH GUIDES

Helen Pearson’s pencil sketches remain among the best images ever made of her beloved Portsmouth. This little souvenir book from 1913 still pops up in used bookstores, but you don’t have to go searching. Here are half of the images in a clickable page format with the text from the original booklet.

 

 

FOLLOWING PAGES INCLUDE: Old Meeting Hill Pump, Langdon House, Portsmouth Public LIbrary, Portsmouth Athenaeum, MacPhaedros-Warner House, Moffatt-Ladd House, Lord House, Nutter House, William Pitt Tavern, Lear House, Point of Graves, Old Linden Tree and St. John's Chapel.

Most of the early Portsmouth touring books include photographs, but Helen Pearson did something different. Her 1913 "Vignettes of Portsmouth" featured her warm evocative pencil sketches. The little booklet of nearly two dozen images appeared as a cloth-covered paperback with text by Harold Hotchkiss Bennett. Although many of the images have re-appeared in articles and books since, to our knowledge, it has never been reprinted. Because it was a delicate booklet, copies show up only rarely in used book stores.

Meeting Hill PumpLittle information is known about Pearson who died in Portsmouth in 1949. Dr. Dorothy Vaughan, who began work at the Portsmouth Public Library in 1921 knew Pearson. Before her death at age 99, Dorothy told SeacoastNH.com, "I used to call on her. She was a delightful woman with a sort of a flourish. She had a hothouse in the back of her home on Broad Street where she lived with her brother Dan. They raised wonderful flowers, sold them, I think, for weddings and funerals, back before there were florists like today."

According to Vaughan, brother Dan Pearson (neither married) may have been an inventor. He reportedly designed the mechanism for coupling railroad cars that may have provided the income for the Pearsons. While Dan was highly mechanical, sister Helen was artistic and had attended art school in Boston.

It is worth speculating whether Helen Pearson had met the "grandmother of Portsmouth tourism" Sarah Foster, whose Civil War-era pocket guide to Portsmouth historic houses was a runaway bestseller locally. Foster, like Pearson, had painted the region's historic homes and both also had a passion for painting flowers. Foster lived on Richards Ave. near Broad Street, never married, and was struck and killed by one of the town's first trolley cars in 1900.

Pearson may have been carrying Foster's work into the next century. Pearson bequeathed the original images in "Vignettes" to the Portsmouth Public Library where they remain today, archived on the same shelf as the original oil paintings of her predecessor Sarah Foster. The work of both artists deserves to be rediscovered, reprinted, studied and displayed.

In this online gallery of Pearson's work we have included, not only the pencil images from "Vignettes", but also some of the accompanying text from the original booklet. By Harold Hotchkiss Bennett may include information no longer considered accurate today. -- JDRBy J. Dennis Robinson

Text copyright (c) 2005 by SeacoastNH.com. Originally published here 1999.

CONTINUE to next VIGNETTE

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