Asahel Lynde Powers, the son of Asahel, Jr. and Sophia Lynde Powers, was born in Springfield, Vermont, on 28 February 1813. He began his career as an itinerant artist at an early age; the first portrait attributed to him is of Dr. Joel Green (?) from Rutland, Vermont, dated 1831. Several portraits from the mid-1830s were painted in Springfield, indicating that Powers returned there periodically from his travels through Vermont, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Powers' paintings from the 1830s are considered his strongest portraits due to their intensity, crispness, and decorative quality.
In the early 1840s the artist moved to Olney, Illinois. A number of likenesses dated 1840 and painted in the area of Plattsburgh, New York, indicate that he began his journey west around this time and that he traveled through Clinton and Franklin Counties in New York, where relatives and other Vermont residents lived. Powers' New York paintings from 1840, while not as strong as his New England portraits of the 1830s, are more accomplished, exhibiting penetrating characterization and better knowledge of modeling and perspective. It is not known whether Powers' progression from a naive to a more academic style resulted from formal training or developed from his own experience and observation. In Clinton, Powers' sitters were prominent, well-to-do citizens. Perhaps for this clientele he strove to produce more academic portraits, which would in turn win him additional commissions. While in New York Powers evidently gave painting instruction as well. Landscape and still life painter Daniel Folger Bigelow (1823-1910) of Peru, New York, wrote that he acquired his first instruction from Powers, to whose influence he owed his own "delicacy of coloring and treatment."
There are no known works, however, from the artist's Illinois residency. An 1844 document from Clinton County, the only evidence of Powers' marriage, orders Elizabeth M. Powers, his widow, to make an inventory of the deceased's possessions, suggesting that she may not have accompanied him to Illinois, where he died in 1843. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Little, Nina Fletcher. Asahel Powers, Painter of Vermont Faces. Exh. cat. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, 1973.
Little, Nina Fletcher. "Asahel Powers." In Lipman and Armstrong 1980, 155-160.
Rumford 1981, 172-175.
Chotner, Deborah, with contributions by Julie Aronson, Sarah D. Cash, and Laurie Weitzenkorn. American Naive Paintings. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 290.