Bronze relief portrait with medium brown patina
This tiny bronze portrait relief of Allen’s mother was found in the collection of Frederick’s niece, Phyllis, the daughter of his youngest sister Mildred. It is in a graceful wide dark wood ogee frame. No markings can be found, but the likeness is clear.
The second copy, and the better defined of the two, was given as a gift by Allen to one of his grandsons along with a few other commemorative medals from award dinners and/or annual meetings. It was discovered in 2017 in his box of treasures at the facility where he was being cared for. Given the appearance of the two copies, one with crisper details, it is presumed the portrait was made from a sand cast where the “pattern” would become less clear with repeated use. It appears that Allen may have cast it himself given the uneven and darker appearance of the back side.
Esther B. Allen (1851-1930) had a distinctive profile with a straight nose, small mouth and prominent chin. She wore her hair in the style of the times, drawn up at the back of the crown in a loose bun with a poof of hair all around the face and neck. In photographs she is sometimes shown wearing a loose blouse with a broach at the high collar decorated with trim ringing the top edge. There is no signature, date, symbols or decorative elements on this sweet little portrait, set within a simple rectangular narrow-bordered frame with rounded corners.
Ester Miranda Belcher was descended from early Massachusetts colonial families (Belcher, Cobb and Kidder). Her family was working class, her father a butcher and “Weigh Master in Pork House.” It was a large family. She likely received more attention being the second of 7, but probably also had more responsibilities with her older sister than the rest of the children, two of whom were boys.
That responsibility instilled in her a strong work ethic. In later years, Agnes said about her, “His mother had great ambition and determination. She scraped and saved until the children were nearly all grown and they could build and pay the mortgage on a nice home in Attleboro, with a garden she loved. However she paid a big price for it, falling on the stairs and breaking her hip. It was not set right so thereafter she had to use crutches, suffered a good deal of pain, but still went up and down stairs doing the cooking, keeping the house immaculate.”
Esther was a small woman; yet, like her mother, she raised a large family of 6 children, Frederick being the fifth. The first four came quickly, then after a gap of ten years Fred and his little sister Millie were born two years apart. This meant that the older children were gone already from the house when Frederick entered high school leaving him with his mother, father and little sister. They were gentle parents. Consequently he was close to them and attentive to their needs, helping his mother in the garden, bringing her thoughtful gifts and taking her out, bringing them up for several years to his summer island home and nursing his father through his death.
It may have been there in North Haven, Maine that this little portrait was made. The blouse that mother Esther is wearing in one of the photos (taken in 1915 and 1920) is very much like that in the portrait. A loving son, Frederick has taken care with the details of the hair and garment, tenderly representing his little mother in this tiny tribute.
Size: 1 11/16-3/4” x 2 ½” x 1/16”
No signature, title or date, but the likeness is clear