The polite arts, as practiced by genteel young women years ago, are often called “women’s work.” No longer politically correct, the term does reflect the time-consuming arts women once practiced. Andrea Valluzzo gives us the background of samplers, those cross stitched works of art that tell so much about the past.
Schoolgirl samplers are among the most charming of Americana’s many forms. They reflect a time when women learned early on the skills they would need later on. Their training incorporated practicality with beauty. Combined lessons in citizenship, faith and patriotism with leisure time pursuits.
According to the National Museum of American History, the earliest known American sampler was made by Loara Standish of the Plymouth Colony about 1645.
By the 1700s, girls were taught needlework by women family members. In the early 1800s, schools to teach well-to-do young ladies the polite arts sprang up throughout New England and down the coast towards Philadelphia and into Bucks County, PA.
A girl’s journey to womanhood could be traced by her collection of samplers – from the simplest of ABC styles to the most complex and elaborate embroideries. Recently, schoolgirl samplers have received a lot of attention from museums as a way to study the education of girls in early America.
Alphabet and floral motifs were common. Religious themes, and samplers among girls who attended the same schools, can easily be attributed to certain regions.
The samplers we love the most are the unusual examples that stand out for their individuality and craftsmanship.
The sampler to the left, for instance, comes from Chester County, PA. It was wrought in 1821 by a 12-year-old girl. While the sampler depicts the familiar vase of carnations, what sets it apart are the crown flanking the central image. The grapevine motif is also unique.
Among Connecticut River Valley samplers, examples from Wethersfield, CT. frequently include town scenes along with garlands of flowers held aloft by an eagle. Many are family records, such as this circa 1818 needlework sampler. Shown at left. Note its complexity and the skill level of the stitcher.
Schoolgirl samplers will make a strong showing during Americana Week. Sotheby’s will auction samplers from the collection of sampler expert, author and avid collector Betty Ring. Dealers are certain to pick up on the popularity of samplers as well, with offerings for new buyers enchanted with art and seasoned collectors looking for something special.
Today’s featured image is an 1819 sampler by Eliza Meserole of New Jersey.
Category: 12 Days of Americana