Last week the New York Times alerted me to three museum exhibits on eighteenth-century women’s needlework now open in the Northeast.
In Hartford, the Connecticut Historical Society launches “Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art and Family, 1740-1840” today. Its description:
Early American needlework is an art form created almost exclusively by women and girls. As art, these needlework pictures and useful household objects burst with color, imaginative design, and evidence of close observation. As history, these same items reveal clues to the lives and times of the girls and women who set those countless stitches into cloth. . . .The museum also has a daylong conference on early American needlework scheduled for 30 October.
Beautifully decorated clothing, bedding, and accessories, school work by children as young as 6 years old, and masterpieces of needlework art depicting classical scenes, bucolic landscapes, and perfectly-rendered flora and fauna will all be featured. The final gallery will display needlework dedicated to preserving family history and highlight the work of one remarkable family – and an even more unusual young woman within that family, Prudence Punderson.
Further to the south, the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme has just opened its exhibit “With Needle and Brush: Schoolgirl Embroidery From the Connecticut River Valley.” The image above is one sample of that embroidery, dating from 1758, and the museum’s website explains:
The Connecticut River Valley was one of the most important centers in America for the teaching and production of embroidered pictures by girls and young women in private academies during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. . . .Finally, in northern Delaware the Winterthur Museum is hosting a new exhibit titled “Betsy Ross: The Life Behind the Legend.” This exhibition, curated in part by Massachusetts-based biographer Marla R. Miller, presents authentic artifacts of the historical Elizabeth Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole (1752-1836), separate from depictions of the mythical woman. There is also a series of lunchtime lectures, including Bruce Cole speaking on the provocative topic, “The American Revolution: Who Cares”.
Over the course of their education, girls undertook progressively more complex and difficult needlework. Before the age of ten, they began with elementary samplers worked on linen and gradually developed a repertory of stitching techniques. During their studies, they executed canvaswork pieces, samplers, memorials, and silk pictures as evidence of the skills and accomplishments that would demonstrate their suitability as wives capable of managing a household and educating children.