(Written by PsBrown for her blog, "At Home in the Huddle" c. March, 2014
..........it was Genevie Brainard’s grandson Charles’ wife, Marion, who introduced me to the story of Charlotte Buell. We stood in the living room of the Brainards’ new home on Putnam Street, in the early 1970s, staring at a large watercolor of a bowl of white roses. It was signed “C. B. Coman” and I remember just standing there, wondering how a watercolorist could do such clear, shimmering work! Marion told me that Charlotte had been born here, in Waterville, in 1833, several years after her father, Chauncey, had come to Waterville and entered into first the tannery business and then the successful manufacture of shoes and boots.
As Mrs. Brainard continued her story, she explained that even when Charlotte was a little girl she liked to draw. (Although I can't corroborate this, another person told me that it was Charlotte who, at the age of twelve, had drawn this picture of the first Presbyterian Church building – the one built in 1823 that stood across from the Village Green exactly where the Brunswick is, now.)
Even as a child Charlotte suffered from some loss of hearing, and perhaps for that reason her father and mother encouraged her in her artistry to the extent that they presented her work at a special art exhibit. The local critics shook their heads, however, and quietly agreed that although a nice child, she’d never be a real artist.
Drawing and painting may, in fact, have been the last thing on Charlotte’s mind when she married Elijah Coman, a man who had lived “about twenty miles away.” He was a man with a dream, people said, and the newlyweds loaded a covered wagon and set out for Iowa and frontier life on a farm. Several years later, however, “Eli” died and, at about that same time, Charlotte became completely deaf - something she jokingly said later was an advantage because she couldn't hear the scathing remarks of critics. She returned to Waterville and determined that in spite of her trouble, she was not going to be idle. At age forty, she committed herself to a career in art.
Probably with her parents’ help, she moved to New York City and trained with James Brevoort, a landscape painter of some reputation. A few years later, she sailed for Europe where she continued her training in Paris, Amsterdam and London. A painting of hers, called The French Village, was displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, and after a decade overseas, she returned to New York City. She received much positive attention including election in 1910 as an Associate to the National Academy of Design, but well-aware of discrimination against women artists by male jurors, she always signed her work C.B. Coman.
She spent summers in the Adirondacks and winters along the Atlantic shore, painting what she liked and displaying the best of what she created. It wasn’t until she was in her late seventies that she started to become very -known and collect award after award for her work.