Little is known of Henry Folsom, save that he went to Boston to study art and died at a young age. That he was a gifted student is established by this sensitive portrait of his sister and supported by a family genealogy, which records three additional portraits of family members, each said to show “great talent.” Members of the intermarried Folsom and Gilman families emigrated from Hingham, England, to Massachusetts in 1638, on the ship Diligent, of Ipswich. The first documentation of the Folsom family in Exeter occurs in 1655, although there was a Gilman presence after 1647. James Folsom (1765–1835), Henry’s father, was a saddler. His marriage to Sarah Gilman (1766–1805) continued the long history of interrelationships between the two families, and they had eight children, four of them girls.
Art historian Nina Fletcher Little speculated that the lovely and intuitive portrait of this pensive young woman, with its sense of vulnerability and introspection, depicts Henry’s sister Anna Gilman Folsom (1797–1868), who married John Calvin Gerrish on December 4, 1826. Gerrish was a printer and publisher of the Exeter News Letter. The girl’s hair is pulled away from her face with a tortoiseshell comb in the front and swept up in the back. She wears a simple white dress with a high waist, tight sleeves, and squared neckline, low in the front and high in the back, which suggest an earlier date than is ascribed in the note attached to the verso of the painting. Although there is minimal attention to the girl’s dress and body, her delicately poised head, in three-quarter view, is handled with naturalness and confidence, the pouting lips and sharp nose slightly overlapping the rim of her cheek.
Stacy C. Hollander, "Young Woman of the Folsom Family (Probably Anna Gilman Folsom)," in American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum (New York: Harry N. Abrams in association with American Folk Art Museum, 2001), 377.