William Stearns has not been positively identified, but is believed to have been active circa 1830 to 1840. The name comes from the inscription on the National Gallery's Bowl of Fruit (1953.5.34), which reads PAINTED BY (at lower left) WILLIAM STEARNS (at lower right), and was probably applied with a stamp. There are two other known pictures by Stearns, both still lifes. He may be the man of that name from Mansield, Massachusetts, born in 1808, who is believed to have made calligraphic drawings in the 1820s and is recorded as having "died a painter" in 1845. The Mansfield William Stearns was the son of Isaac and Susannah Stearns, and married Nancy Hicks Walker of Dighton, Massachusetts, in 1831. In the possession of his descendants is an unsigned stencil picture of a horse, but they also have a great volume of calligraphic drawings and naive watercolors made by William's twin sisters, either of whom could have been its artist. Although this William could well have been a theorem painter (using stencils to make pictures on fabric or paper), there is neither signed art work nor documentary evidence to indicate that he was. [This is an edited version of the artist's biography published in the NGA Systematic Catalogue]
Vital Records of Mansfield Massachusetts to the End of the Year 1849. Salem, Massachsuetts, 1933: 59.
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: 370-373.