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Connecticut Needlework

Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840

Susan P. Schoelwer

Publication Year: 2010

Connecticut women have long been noted for their creation of colorful and distinctive needlework, including samplers and family registers, bed rugs and memorial pictures, crewel-embroidered bed hangings and garments, silk-embroidered pictures of classical or religious scenes, quilted petticoats and bedcovers, and whitework dresses and linens. This volume offers the first regional study, encompassing the full range of needle arts produced prior to 1840. Seventy entries showcase more than one hundred fascinating examples--many never before published--from the Connecticut Historical Society's extensive collection of this early American art form. Produced almost exclusively by women and girls, the needle arts provide an illuminating vantage point for exploring early American women's history and education, including family-based traditions predating the establishment of formal academies after the American Revolution. Extensive genealogical research reveals unseen family connections linking various types of needlework, similar to the multi-generational male workshops documented for other artisan trades, such as woodworking or metalsmithing. Photographs of stitches, reverse sides, sketches, design sources, and related works enhance our understanding and appreciation of this fragile art form and the talented women who created it. An exhibition of needlework in this book will be held at the Connecticut Historical Society in late fall, 2010. Funding for this project has been provided by the Coby Foundation, Ltd., and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Director’s Foreword

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pp. vi-vii

The Connecticut Historical Society’s collection is filled with many thousands of wonderful objects and documents, but only one part of the collection is distinctly female. Within our vast textile collection storage area, billions of stitches rest in the dark within acid-free boxes, on shelves or hangers, and in drawers. Each stitch is a testament to the girl or woman who threaded the needle, learned the stitch, and created a piece of clothing, useful household item, or decorative...

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pp. ix-xiii

As Director of Museum Collections and then Florence S. Marcy Crofut Director of Collections Development, I have had the great good fortune to oversee the Connecticut Historical Society’s extraordinarily rich and varied collections over the past twelve years. I feel especially privileged to have had the opportunity of writing this catalog, showcasing highlights of the CHS needlework...

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Introduction: The Needle Arts in Connecticut

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pp. 1-16

The emergence of two-dimensional pictorial art in Connecticut has traditionally been traced to 1762, when Boston’s William Johnston became the first professional painter known to have worked in the region.1 At least two decades earlier, however, talented and skillful Connecticut women had begun creating pictures on canvas—assembling color, line, and iconography into visual compositions...

Appendix: The Stoddard-Williams-Edwards Tradition

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pp. 17-22

Selections from the Connecticut Historical Society Collection

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Explanation of Cataloging Terms

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pp. 25- 29

Because the catalog entry headers include information essential to situating each needlework in time and place, it is useful to articulate the analytical criteria and decisions that underlie each category of information. Titles combine personal and object names. Inclusion of the maker’s name serves largely as a mnemonic device

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1. Elizabeth Gore’s Cushion Cover

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pp. 30- 31

oldly drawn flowers, grapes, peapods, and birds fill the space of this small panel, creating a delightful illusion of peeping in at a secret, walled garden, a miniature version of the floral bed hangings or large pastoral pictures worked by professional and amateur embroiderers in...

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2. Lord-Pitkin-Wells Family Stomacher

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pp. 32-33

Continuous vine branches and swirls delicately to fill the triangular space of this stomacher, an essential women’s accessory of the early to mid-eighteenth century. Stomachers filled the center space between the front bodice edges of stylish open robe gowns. They were...

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3. Hooker-Pierpont-Russell-Talcott Family Apron

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pp. 34-35

This elegant apron displays a sophisticated combination of naturalistically drawn, but fantastically colored, botanical motifs. Some leaves are subtly shaded, others are striped with highly unnatural color combinations. Extensive silver threads add glittering highlights...

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4. Mary Edwards’s Robing (Dress Fragment)

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pp. 36-37

In April 1840, sixty-five-year-old Hannah Whittlesey (1775–1855) of Middletown, Connecticut, donated three family heirlooms—a pair of silk-embroidered shoes (cat. 5) and this long, narrow band, attributed to her great-aunt, Mary (Molly) Edwards.23 In contrast to the wider ...

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5. Hannah Edwards Wetmore’s Shoes

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pp. 38-39

Numbering among CHS’s earliest artifact accessions, these elegant shoes were donated in 1840 by the original owner’s granddaughter and namesake. The design is carefully drawn and positioned, with asymmetrical elements that balance from shoe to shoe. Beginning...

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6. Unfinished Pitkin Family Coat of Arms

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pp. 40-41

A golden lion glistens atop Jerusha Pitkin’s unfinished coat of arms. On the shield below, a brilliant red-orange disk glows at the center of a diagonal bar, flanked by two five-pointed stars and two chained swans, symbols of learning.34 Swirling foliage, or mantling, in shades...

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7. Babcock Family Skirt Panels

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pp. 42-43

The crewel embroidery on these skirt panels represents a “do-it-yourself ” version of floral patterns woven into fashionable and expensive brocaded English dress silks, which were...

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8. Bedcover

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pp. 44-45

The story of this bedcover begins with a telephone call one December morning: “My mother has an old quilt . . .” The “quilt” proved to be something far rarer–an intact crewel-embroidered bedspread with a Connecticut history. The design radiates from an abstract,...

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9. John Storrs’s Pocketbook

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pp. 46-47

Two stately beasts—a lion and a stag—grace the front of Rev. John Storrs’s canvas work pocketbook. A fruit-laden tree, oversized flowers, small plants, and a butterfly complete the scene. Set against a verdant green background, the miniature landscape evokes the lost paradise...

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10–12. Faith Trumbull’s Pastoral Picture and Overmantels

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pp. 48-53

These three pastoral scenes testify to the availability of European Grand Manner images in colonial America, the significant role of needlework in disseminating this imagery, and perhaps most significantly, the efforts of one aspiring artist (who happened to be female), to absorb and adapt these high-art models into her own idiom. The small milking...

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13. Punderson Family Bed Hangings

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pp. 54-59

Preserved together for well over two centuries, this set of crewel-embroidered bed hangings is evidently the earliest component of a remarkable trove of Punderson family needlework...

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14. Sarah Halsey’s Petticoat

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pp. 60- 61

An exotic fish-tailed mermaid, a lion, and a leopard join more familiar creatures adorning the elaborate border of Sarah Halsey’s petticoat—a fish, two stags, three rabbits,...

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15. John Eddy’s Sleeved Waistcoat

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pp. 62- 63

Bright red and green cherry trees, red and yellow tulips, pink and yellow roses, blue borage, and other colorful flowers and leaves ornament this delightful sleeved waistcoat, sized for a boy about three or four years old. Eighteenth-century children’s clothing...

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16. Elizabeth Swan Brewster’s Bedcover

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pp. 64- 65

At the center of Elizabeth Swan Brewster’s bedcover, a fashionably dressed man and woman stand beneath a marvelous tree, its trunk and branches wrapped by a sinuous vine ...

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17. Mary Bidwell’s Family Register

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pp. 66-67

This example of a needlework family register pre-dates, by over a decade, the earliest previously recorded American example (from the Olmstead family, also from the eastern...

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18. Floral Picture

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pp. 68- 69

Content Denison’s canvas work picture showcases a large-scale arrangement of bold, brightly colored flowers, positioned asymmetrically on stems that spring from a low double hillock. Red and pink strawberries strew the ground below. The stitching is more complex...

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19. Bed Rug (fragment)

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pp. 70- 71

Little more than the central third remains of this bed rug; a portion of the left border and most of the right border have been cut off. This wear pattern suggests that after it ceased to be fashionable as a bedcovering, it may have been placed on the floor, with a table protecting the center section. Even in its fragmentary condition, its rich, warm colors; large flowers; and...

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20. Priscilla Kingsbury’s Bed Curtain

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pp. 72- 73

Unlike most American crewel embroidery, this bed curtain is close to reversible. Each embroidered element is worked solidly on both front and back (figs. 20.1, 20.2). The luxury of having a bed curtain that looked nearly as good from inside the bed as from outside came at a considerable price—Priscilla’s satin-stitch filling required much more crewel yarn...

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21. Ebenezer Punderson’s Pocketbook

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pp. 74- 75

This unusually fine example of an Irish stitch pocketbook features rows of stylized carnations—a frequent embroidery motif, called gillyflowers in the period—carefully laid out in alternating rows of two and three flowers. The Irish stitch (known today as bargello..

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22. Esther Carrington’s Sampler

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pp. 76- 77

Few signed and dated samplers are known from Connecticut prior to the American Revolution, and pictorial examples are even rarer...

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23. Hannah Punderson’s Sampler

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pp. 78- 79

The long, narrow shape of this sampler harks back to the style of samplers produced in England in the seventeenth century, with designs and letters placed in neat, carefully defined horizontal bands (although the length of this example is only about half as long as...

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24. Pictures of the Twelve Apostles

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pp. 80- 83

Each of these pictures depicts an Apostle with one or more of his traditional symbols— St. Peter with the keys to the kingdom of God, St. John the Evangelist with an eagle and a chalice holding a winged serpent, St. James the Great with the staff and floppy hat of a...

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25. Hand-held Fire Screens

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pp. 84- 85

These delicately embroidered fire screens epitomize late eighteenth-century gentility. Made of expensive, imported silks and used to screen the user’s face from fireplace heat, they evoke a lifestyle of wealth and leisure, with time to dally before a well stoked fire, hands...

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26. The First, Second, and Last Scene of Mortality

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pp. 86- 89

Prudence Punderson Rossiter’s Mortality picture is an unparalleled masterpiece of American needlework. It is at once a detailed domestic interior, an allegory of the stages of life, a rare visual record of slavery in New England, and a self-portrait that convincingly represents...

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27. Elizabeth Foote’s Bed Rug

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pp. 90- 91

Elizabeth Foote Huntington’s blue, white, and brown bed rug features a central motif of five oversize flowers springing from a two-handled vase, encircled by a wide border of undulating vines...

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28. Sarah Spencer’s Sampler

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pp. 92- 93

Instead of the usual combination of multiple alphabets, numbers, brief verse or motto, signature, decorative borders, and pictorial elements, Sarah Spencer simplified her design to include only uppercase letters, small stars, and a zigzag border. Working on a relatively fine linen...

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29. Lorrain Collins’s Bed Rug

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pp. 94- 95

More than thirty birds perch amid the oversize, densely patterned flowers, leaves, and scrolling vines of Lorrain Collins’s multicolored bed rug. Their dove-like shapes are simple and virtually identical, but continual variations in colors and stitches make each look very different...

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30. Asenath Rising’s Whole-Cloth Quilt

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pp. 96- 97

Eighteenth-century quilts were luxury items, constructed of expensive, imported textiles— fine worsted wools, printed cottons, occasionally even silks. To showcase these valuable materials, quilt tops were constructed of full-width panels of fabric, seamed together vertically...

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31. Lydia Church’s Sampler

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pp. 98- 99

Lydia Church’s sampler is one of four highly decorative samplers marked as having been made in 1791 at Mrs. Mansfield’s New ...

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32. Sally Lawrence’s Sampler

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pp. 100- 101

Sally Lawrence’s sampler recalls the modern graphical adage, “Plan Ahead.” In the top half, Sally allowed herself the...

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33. Eunice Ripley’s Sampler

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pp. 102- 103

Instead of the conventional arrangement of a courting couple flanking a central Tree of Life, ten-year-old Eunice Ripley depicted a sole woman with a tree, a goat, and six birds. One...

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34. Lucy Spalding’s Sampler

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pp. 104- 105

In this large, almost square sampler, imaginatively compartmentalized design areas frame a central rectangle with elaborately lettered alphabets plus the maker’s signature inscription. A horizontal frieze of three flower clusters fills the top border, with a central rosebush flanked by vases with mirror image bouquets of three blossoms each. Bold, geometric flowering vines...

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35. Polly Ives’s Sampler

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pp. 106- 107

Polly Ives embellished her sampler with emblems of both domestic and literary refinement: a symmetrical Georgian mansion house and a quotation from English poet Alexander Pope (1688–1744), renowned for his translations of Homer. The house resembles countless...

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36. Catherine Wadsworth’s Sampler

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pp. 108- 109

one in the 23rd year of the Independenc[e] of the United States of America”: with these words, twelve-year-old Catherine Wadsworth proudly linked her embroidery effort to the spirit of the young American republic. The solidly worked pink background (formed...

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37. Patten, Wheelock, and Davenport Families Coat of Arms

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pp. 110- 111

Elaborate embroidered coats of arms were popular among New England’s social and economic elite prior to the Revolution, worked...

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38. Lee-Brace Family Beehive Picture

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pp. 112-113

The beehive at the center of this delicate embroidery was a conventional symbol of industriousness—diligence or earnest effort. The image was particularly popular in rural...

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39. Punderson-Morgan-Avery Family Whole-Cloth Quilt

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pp. 114-115

Both physical evidence and family history indicate that this bright, rose-colored bedcover is a late example of worsted (wool) whole-cloth quilting in Connecticut. Its construction and design ...

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40. Sally Stiles’s Sampler

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pp. 116-117

Sarah (Sally) Stiles’s sampler displays several features not found on other Connecticut examples: a distinctive, crooked-trunk tree, with branches ending in triple leaves and black-tipped...

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41. The Cottage Girl

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pp. 118-119

I spend my time very agreeably am very much engaged about my Picture,” wrote seventeen year- old Nancy Hale to her sisters in September 1802. Continuing in a spirit of competition...

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42. Ripley Family Coat of Arms

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pp. 120-121

Several features of this coat of arms indicate that Lucy Ripley worked it while a student at the Patten family school in...

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43. Nancy Dunham’s Family Portrait Memorial

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pp. 122-123

The survival of the original, labeled frame allows this memorial picture to be dated quite precisely, to the twenty months between the August 1804 death of its subject, Lois Foote Dunham (1761–1804), and April 1806, when the Hartford framing and looking glass partnership...

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44. Charlotte Perkins’s Dancing Dress

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pp. 124-125

White-on-white embroidery was long admired as a particularly intricate and elite form of decorative needlework. Typically characterized by delicate designs and subtle...

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45. Amelia Hayden’s Family Portrait Memorial

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pp. 126-127

Prudence (known as Amelia) Hayden’s embroidered picture deftly combines a commemoration of death, a family portrait, a local landscape, and an iconographic message of hope...

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46. Ruth W. Patten’s Sampler

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pp. 128-129

Clearly marked “Hartford . . . 1808,” this piece affords the first indication of sampler making at Hartford’s Patten family school, which previously could be linked only with silk embroideries...

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47. Maria Bolles’s Sampler

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pp. 130-131

Maria Bolles’s sampler rewards close inspection, proving to be considerably more complicated and accomplished, in both design and execution, than it appears at first glance....

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48. The Parting of Hector and Andromache

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pp. 132-133

Seventeen-year-old Maria Bissell depicted a famed classical scene from Homer’s Iliad, the legendary epic of the Trojan War. Translated into English by Alexander Pope in 1715– 1720, the...

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49. Perkins Family Coat of Arms

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pp. 134-135

The Perkins family coat of arms is among the largest examples of the Patten school design (nearly two feet high inside the frame), extensively highlighted with both gold...

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50. Watson-Gay Sampler

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pp. 136-137

At the center of this sampler, a bright blue tavern beckons imaginary passersby, its telltale sign suspended from one corner. Less grand than dwellings on southern and central Connecticut...

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51. “And She Had Compassion on Him.” Exod. C.2.V.6

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pp. 138-139

Ruth Green’s picture depicts the well-known Biblical story “The Finding of Moses” or “Moses in the Bulrushes,” ...

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52. Sophia Ellsworth’s Family Memorial

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pp. 140-141

Sophia Ellsworth’s black-on-white picture exemplifies an unusual type of embroidery, known as print-work, distinguished by the conceit of using expensive needlework to imitate...

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53. Jephthah’s Rash Vow

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pp. 142-143

According to the Old Testament Book of Judges (11:30–40), Jephthah led the ancient Israelites against the pagan tribe of Ammonites. Before engaging in battle, Jephthah vowed...

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54. Unfinished Family Portrait Memorial

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pp. 144-145

Like Jerusha Pitkin Wells’s unfinished coat of arms, made decades earlier (cat. 6), Sylvia Punderson Morgan’s headless memorial picture provides a fascinating view of the creative...

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55. Bradford Family Whole-Cloth, Whitework Quilt

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pp. 146-147

This white-on-white masterpiece features a central medallion design (like that seen in Sylvia...

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56. Thankful Stanton Williams’s Candlewick Bedcover

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pp. 148-149

Candlewick embroidery was one of several types of white-on-white embroidery that became popular...

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57. Hannah Boardman’s Sampler

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pp. 150-151

Thirteen-year-old Hannah Boardman’s work combines elements from two separate needlework genres: cross-stitched text from the sampler tradition, and satin-...

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58. Frederic William Tuttle’s Sampler

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pp. 152-153

This small horizontal band sampler would be rather unremarkable, were it not for the inscription that documents it as a rare example of a young boy’s needlework. Composed...

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59. Abigail Ursula Wooster’s Sampler

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pp. 154-155

Abigail Wooster’s almost square sampler is organized into four broad design bands, moving downward from alphanumeric sequences to signature inscription, verse, and finally...

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60. Sixteen Miniature Samplers

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pp. 156-157

This unusual assemblage consists of sixteen miniature samplers worked by as many girls. Most provide the maker’s name and age, ranging from seven to fifteen. Some have borders...

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61. Clarissa Cornelia Loomis’s Sampler

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pp. 158-159

Clarissa Loomis elaborated on a common sampler configuration of the 1820s and early 1830s, characterized by the nearly square shape, even rows of lettering ...

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62. Clarissa Treadwell Perry’s Pillowcase

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pp. 160-161

Clarissa Treadwell Perry’s large and still luxuriant pillowcase features a 5½ inch wide, scalloped border ornamented with geometric cutwork finished with tiny buttonhole stitches...

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63. Elizabeth Potter Moore’s Sampler

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pp. 162-163

Nine-year-old Elizabeth Potter Moore organized her sampler into nine octagonal frames, with text and picture cartouches ringing a central landscape. The picture panels...

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64. Mary Hine’s Sampler

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pp. 164-165

At the bottom of Mary Hine’s sampler, two large bouquets of flowers tower fantastically over a two-story house...

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65. Clarissa Fox’s Family Register Sampler

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pp. 166-167

Worked in a fashionable 1830s palette of brown highlighted with contrasting shades of bright pink, light blue, and cream, Clarissa Fox’s embroidery successfully combines traditional...

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66. Case Sisters’ Samplers

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pp. 168-169

Strong similarities testify that Fanny Maria and Laura Lucinda Case worked under the same instructor (unlike the Ripley sisters of Coventry, whose strikingly different designs...

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67. Mariett Norton’s Memorial Sampler

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pp. 170-171

Mariett Norton’s large and ambitious embroidery features a prominent memorial tribute to “GEORGE WASHINGTON / The / American / hero.” The name of America’s...

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68. Miranda Robinson’s Sampler

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pp. 172-173

Miranda Robinson’s sampler represents an extremely rare combination: a large and accomplished decorative work produced by an eight-year-old black girl. Despite the extensive...

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69. Prudence Maria Hollister’s Sampler

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pp. 174-175

Prudence Maria Hollister’s sampler recapitulates a vernacular design formula seen in numerous Connecticut samplers dating from about 1825 through 1840: squarish shape; three...

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70. Martha Street’s Memorial Sampler

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pp. 176-178

Martha Street’s hybrid memorial sampler combines two distinct needlework traditions: the familiar conventions of vernacular sampler making and the iconographic...


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pp. 179-200

Select Sources

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pp. 201-206

Illustration Credits

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pp. 207-208


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pp. 209-220

E-ISBN-13: 9780819571267
Print-ISBN-13: 9781881264118

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2010