Although the details of Abram Ross Stanley's life are not certain, he was probably born March 16, 1816, in Salisbury, Herkimer County, New York, to Jedediah and Prudence Stanley, who had moved there six years earlier from New Hampshire. Based on his middle name, the artist is sometimes identified as a descendant of Betsy Ross, but there is no evidence to support this claim. Stanley began two years of study with an Italian artist in 1830 and soon after established himself as a portraitist. He is recorded as having taken a long hiatus from painting beginning in 1842; indeed, the 1850 New York State census lists his profession as goldsmith, perhaps reflecting his inability to support his young family solely on his earnings as an artist.
Stanley and his family moved permanently to Shullsburg, Wisconsin, shortly after 1850--probably in 1853. Stanley's working life, like that of many naive painters, was marked by variety, and in Shullsburg he became the town postmaster. The 1860 Wisconsin census gives his occupation as jeweler, and not until 1870 is he recorded as a portrait painter. The date of his last known work is 1873, and Stanley died in Shullsburg on June 23, 1875. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Draper, Lyman Copeland, ed. Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. 3 vols. 1857. Reprint. Madison, Wisconsin, 1904: 3:64.
Butts, Porter. Art in Wisconsin. Madison, Wisconsin, 1936: 76, 97.
Hopkins, Kenneth R. "Three Wisconsin Primitives." Art in America 40 (Spring 1952): 80-91.
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: 365.