This portrait was very difficult to find. We read about it in Aberdeen newspapers, but when digging deeper into Ms. Fossum, it turns out she went by two different first names and had been married and widowed twice. We ultimately traced her linage to a family member on the east coast who owns and loves the artwork. This painting is a departure from many of the other paintings we see from Frank Ashford. It features a full body of the model, and is a very large canvas (50 inches tall by 40 inches wide). It is signed, F.C. Ashford 1927.
Susan Juanita Fossum was born in Aberdeen in 1908 to Dr. Carl Fossum (dentist) and Daisy Shaft. She married Edwin Stevens, then later, J. Warren Hull. Hull was the master of ceremonies for a TV show called, “Strike it Rich.” She passed away in 1991 in New Haven, CT (according to family history on Ancestry.com).
This painting was documented in the Aberdeen Evening News and says Fossum was one of Ashford’s first models upon his return to Aberdeen in 1927. She was a student at Northern State Teachers College. As he often did, Ashford approached Ms. Fossum and invited her to model for him. Ashford would get about $1,000 for a portrait of this stature, but apparently gave it to Ms. Fossum upon completion. It was on display in Ashford’s new studio in the Citizens Building for a time.
By this time Ashford was a noted painter. Upon arriving back in Aberdeen in 1927, several people expressed their intentions to be painted by him as they had an opportunity to engage “a celebrated artist.” Aberdeen Evening News, April 2, 1927.
It is interesting to note, Ms. Fossum wears a dress and a shawl similar to that of the woman featured in Ashford’s Woman With A Shawl painting owned by the Dacotah Prairie Museum in Aberdeen, South Dakota. The woman in this painting has lighter hair and her identity is unknown. Could they be connected?