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William Rice
William Rice
American, 1777 - 1847
Biography: William Rice (1777-1847) was the most prolific sign painter known to have operated in the Northeast. He was not just a good painter, but also a shrewd businessman. By covering his signs with designs of lions and eagles, he effectively "branded" his craft. Soon, his signs were featured on virtually every up-and-coming country inn west of Hartford, and especially along the Albany Turnpike from Hartford to Albany. Rice was born in Petersham, Massachusetts, and moved to Worcester with his family sometime in the 1790s. He married Martha (Patty) Goulding in 1799. Except for a brief period following the marriage, he evidently remained in Worcester until about 1815. Rice claimed to have begun painting in 1800. In 1806, just after the death of his father, Luke, William Rice opened a shop in Worcester, where he offered gilding, varnishing, sign painting and house painting. In 1808 he took as his partner his brother-in-law, Palmer Goulding The pair offered "Sign Painting, Military Caps, Stands of Colors, Knapsacks, &c. Likewise, Burnish Guilding, do. on Glass, &c. Correct Profile Likenesses taken." By 1816 Rice had moved his family to Hartford, opening a shop over tailors Dimock and Marsh in State House Square. There he engaged in "all sorts of Painting, such as / SIGNS, Of all descriptions in the newest style./ CARRIAGES, Coaches, chaises, sulkeys, stages, 1 horse waggons, &c. / LETTERING, Fire-buckets, window shutters, guide boards vessels, &c. / MILITARY. Standards for cavalry, artillery and militia, drums, knapsacks caps, canteens, &c. / DOORS. . . . FURNITURE . . . / GUILDING AND VARNISHING. Furniture, chairs, apothecaries' draws and bottles, picture-frames &c. / FAN-LIGHTS . . ./ House-Painting & Glazing . . . / Floors painted in imitation of Italian marble,&c." In 1820 Rice took over the shop previously occupied by sign painters C. and W. Andross. Rice listed himself in the Hartford City Directory of 1828 as an "ornamental Painter." The directories of 1838-42 continued to list "Rice W. sign painter," but in 1843 the firm was renamed "Wm. Rice & Co, Sign Painters." Rice's partner was his son Frederick F. Rice (1814-77), who had been painting for at least three years. Rice may also have employed his son, painter George W. Rice (1803-87), and his son-in-law, joiner Erastus Robbins (1799-42). In 1845 Rice's firm moved to the newly expanded American Hotel Building. After William died in 1847, son Frederick continued the firm until his own death in 1877. William Rice is one of the few sign painters who regularly signed his work, and a large body of signed works exists. Eighteen Rice signboards were known as of 2000.