Jordan historical marker honors artist, abolitionist
By Connor Fogel
Although he was a highly-collectible Early-American folk artist and active abolitionist who lived in the Village of Jordan in the 19th century, Sheldon Peck is not a household name to many Jordan residents.
During the afternoon of Saturday, Sept. 23, a traditional blue and gold New York state historical marker will be placed at 5 Skaneateles St. in Peck’s honor. With help from the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, Lynn Fall, from Syracuse but who grew up in Jordan, and Jack Horner, the village of Jordan’s historian, will host the dedication ceremony for the historical marker.
“I think this is the first step in helping people in Central New York, especially current and former residents of the Village of Jordan, to discover and learn about one of the founding fathers of Jordan,” Fall said. “He was one of the first people who moved there and lived there, and he has a rich legacy as not only a well-known and well-respected Early American portrait painter, but as a very active member in the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist Movement.”
Peck lived in Jordan from 1828 to 1836, having moved from Vermont with his wife Harriet and two sons. In Jordan, he painted common people who could afford to pay him for his portraits like farmers, merchants, publishers and vendors.
A year after buying 50-acres of farmland in 1835 located on the current northwest corner of the intersection of Stevens Road and Route 31, he sold both his home and 50-acre property to move to Illinois, where he lived with his wife and ten children until passing away in 1868 at the age of 70.
In Illinois, Peck and his wife were both active abolitionists as well as participants on other movements for women’s rights, temperance and public education. Because he traveled so much painting portraits for his career, he was most likely able to help transport fugitive slaves, Fall said.
His property in Lombard, Illinois has since been turned into the Sheldon Peck Homestead. The museum honors his artwork as well as his legacy as an abolitionist. The property is recognized by the National Park Service as a proven Underground Railroad landmark.
His portraits have also been featured in museums across the nation, like the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.
In 2003, a painting of a mother and a daughter from Port Byron owned by Cayuga Museum of Art & History in Auburn, N.Y. sold for $647,000.
Fall said there are over 100 known Peck paintings, and many sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Collectors and historians typically verify a painting as Peck’s by his particular three-stroke brush stroke that he used to enhance fabrics and other details.
“It’s fascinating, because he never signed his paintings,” Fall said. “There are people out there who own his paintings that were handed down in their family, paintings of their ancestors, and they do not even realize that they’re valuable. This happens from time to time — a new formerly-unknown Sheldon Peck painting surfaces, and then there is a lot of buzz in the collectors’ world.”