You might not realise it, but each and every day, the vast majority of Americans carry a little piece of Saunderstown with them wherever they go.
It might be small – at the last count, a little under 5,000 people share it with us – but our delightful hometown can make a rather big boast.
For it was here, in a small room above his father’s snuff mill, that on December 3, 1775, Gilbert Stuart was born.
For those none the wiser, Gilbert Stuart grew up to become one of the 18th Century’s master portrait artists, painting, amongst others, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Adams – father and son – and, lest we forget, George Washington.
It might never have been quite finished, but it is his portrait of Washington that became Stuart’s most famous, indeed, defining, work.
Pause, if you will, for a moment and take out your wallet, purse or wherever else you might keep your money. Remove a one-dollar bill and take a close look at the picture.
It does, of course, depict George Washington and is an image ingrained on the national consciousness.
The image in question is taken from a portrait called The Athenaeum. It was painted by, you guessed it, Gilbert Stuart. Gilbert Stuart hailed from Saunderstown, Rhode Island.
Connections, you see? They’re everywhere.
It’s a neat trick. You might think you know little or nothing about Saunderstown but in fact, the thing for which we are most renowned, our snatch of historic significance, our greatest claim to fame, is sitting right there, crumpled in your pocket.
Given that Stuart painted more than 1,000 portraits during a prodigious career – and given that his work has been used in countless places, featuring in galleries and art museums across the United States and beyond and decorating some of America’s most recognisable postage stamps – it seems implausible that there can be many of us who are genuinely unfamiliar with his work. Connections are there, everywhere we look, we just don’t always realise it.
Stuart’s birthplace, painstakingly restored, still stands on Gilbert Stuart Road (it hasn’t, of course, always been called that), housing a fabulous museum that is testament to his life’s achievements. Our dream, our hope, is that one day, perhaps far in the future, Saunderstown might become known for more than Gilbert Stuart alone.
For OMs? Why not? Both born on the same street, there's a connection. We might not supplant Gilbert Stuart and his work and nor would we ever seek to. But perhaps we could supplement our hometown’s favorite son, his achievements, his legacies.
That has to be our aim – our Athenaeum – that our project, our quest to make 100,000,000 OMs and distribute them across the globe will, one day, perhaps not in our time, be mentioned alongside Gilbert Stuart and all he did during a laudable life.
“Saunderstown? Sure, we know Saunderstown. It’s where Gilbert Stuart was born, right? And those OMs? They’re from there too, everyone knows that.”
Here in our studio, we’re proud of our heritage. We’re proud of our roots, we’re proud of Gilbert Stuart, we’re proud of Saunderstown and, above all, we’re proud of our OMs.
Perhaps you’d like to exchange some of Gilbert Stuart’s work for some of ours. If you do, then you know where to send it.
After all, you can carry Gilbert Stuart’s work in your pocket.
But, our work, you can carry in your heart.