Friday, December 24, 2010

Exhibit Installation: Middle Tennessee Samplers

What: Middle Tennessee Samplers: "This My Name Shall Ever Have"
When: December 17, 2010-April 10, 2011
Where: Polk Presidential Hall, The James K. Polk Ancestral Home, Columbia, TN

Here are some photos of the installation and the finished exhibit.

Curator Tom Price, standing on the world's best ladder, hangs wallpaper in the domestic interior section.

Polk Home board member Julia West irons muslin for the window coverings.

The giant sampler was printed on vinyl wallpaper. Polk Home director John Holtzapple, Janet (under the sampler), and Tom hang the introductory graphic panel.

My calculations. Fractions are hard. I refuse to deal with anything less than a quarter of an inch.

Schematic for the Little Dog samplers section.

Painter's tape--very useful.

The exhibit is up! The introductory section along the right wall and the domestic interior at the rear. The vitrine holds needlework accessories.

The Little Dog samplers.

The academic setting. Janet made the school uniform.

John, Tom, and Janet--happy to be finished.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Decorating with Samplers for Christmas

Linda completed her Middle Tennessee sampler in October 2009. I finally made it over to her house to see it framed and hanging on her wall. Linda chose to stitch the horizontal version of the piece, but kept the original red palette. She used wool fibers on linen.

Christmas is a good time to visit Linda, since she decorates her entire home for the season. She has ten (I think!) Christmas trees, including a cat tree, a red and white tree, a gardening tree, a rag ball tree, and, of the most interest to stitchers, a needlework tools tree and a sampler tree.

The needlework tools are displayed in front of an antique sampler, one of Linda's favorite pieces. In addition to collecting antiques, she also stitches reproductions. Her favorite designers are the Scarlet Letter and Mary Beale.

The entrance to Linda's home features both reproductions and antiques. Some of us have sampler walls; almost every wall in Linda's house is hung with needlework.

My mom was quite taken with this reproduction of the 1826 Sarah Hatton McPhail sampler from The Essamplaire. She seems to think I should stitch it for her Christmas present this year.

One year, Linda challenged herself to make a Christmas ornament every week. She ended the year with 75 ornaments (to add to the ornaments she had already stitched throughout her life). She also does all her own finishing. She took many patterns from Mary Beale, Nancy Sturgeon, Annelle Ferguson, Sharon Cohen, Eileen Bennett, Ewe & Eye & Friends, Carriage House Samplings and the Just Cross Stitch ornament issue. The result is her magnificent sampler tree.

A close up shot of the sampler tree:

Linda continues to stitch ornaments to commemorate trips and family events. At this rate, she will soon have two sampler trees.

You can read Mary Beale's account of her visit to Linda's home here and Linda's responses to Mary's questionnaire here.

Artisan Ancestors Podcast

Jon Kay, director of Traditional Arts Indiana, interviewed me for his podcast, Artisan Ancestors. I discuss our research methodology and what samplers can reveal about the stitchers and their communities. You can listen to the interview on your computer or download it to your MP3 player.

Artisan Ancestors is the podcast that "explores ways to research and understand the past. Whether you’re a local historian, genealogist or just interested in learning about the everyday creative lives of people and the things they made, this program is for you."

Thanks to Jon for a fun interview!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Exhibit Dates Changed

The upcoming exhibit of Middle Tennessee samplers at the Polk Presidential Hall in Columbia, TN, has been rescheduled to open on December 17, 2010, and continue through April 10, 2011. Janet, Tom, and I are all working--frantically might not be the right word--very, very hard to make this show visually appealing.

Here's a sneak peak at one of the samplers that will be featured in the exhibit:

1850 Alice Louise Bauguss

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jennifer's Letter to the Burlington County (NJ) Historical Society

To the Board of the Burlington County Historical Society:

I am writing to express my dismay at the theft of the 1804 Mary Bowker sampler. I am also writing concerning the Board’s decision to auction 29 samplers from the Society’s collection.

I have several questions.

1) How does this sale reinforce the BCHS’s stated mission (found on your website on November 17, 2010) “to encourage historical study and research; to acquire and preserve records, artifacts, and articles of historical interest; and to interpret the history of the area through education, programs, projects and pursuits in order to convey this historical legacy to current and future generations?”

Samplers are unique artifacts of material culture, for they contain within them the story of an individual girl, her school, her family, and her community.

2) How does this sale reinforce the BCHS’s recently adopted mission statement (found in the auction catalog on November 17, 2010) “to tell the rich history of the County to children and their families through new interactive exhibits?”

Samplers were usually made by children. Many of your samplers were made by children from Burlington County. I see from photos of your gallery space that these samplers are currently on exhibit. Would it not be possible to interpret samplers in a way that makes the rich history of Burlington County interactive? Children are fascinated by the toys, clothing, books, and yes, samplers, of their predecessors.

3) Is the Board aware that the intended use of the funds raised by the sale of the samplers is not in compliance with the American Association of Museum’s Code of Ethics? According to the auction catalog, “the sale proceeds of the needlework and furniture from the Society’s collection will be used to develop…participatory exhibitions and interpret the significant roles of transportation, agriculture, the military and the Underground Railroad.”

The American Association of Museum’s Code of Ethics states: "Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum's discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections." Exhibit planning and interpretation is not included in this category.

4) Is the Board aware that sampler and needlework research is a field that has attracted serious scholarship?

Recent studies of Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Connecticut have all shown that samplers and needlework are unique among artifacts. A careful examination of samplers can reveal the not only the stitchers’ skills and personal preferences, but also their social status, geographic origins, financial straits, and family connections. Because samplers were a domestic and educational art, practiced by young girls, they are sometimes the only record we have of that stitcher’s life. They fill in the gaps in the written record. Women were not individually named in the US census until 1850, yet they left their signatures on countless pieces of linen. In my own work, documenting 19th Century Tennessee samplers, I have been known to travel across the state to examine one sampler. To find 29 samplers in one collection is a researcher’s dream.

5) How will the deaccessioning and sale of these artifacts affect the BCHS’s relationship with past donors? Are you sure the museum has legal title to the samplers? You must have a signed Deed of Gift or a sales receipt to prove ownership, otherwise it is illegal for you to sell them and you may run a risk of lawsuits.

I see from the auction catalog that acquisition of the samplers began in 1957, with gifts from an estate. Until 1998, the BCHS acquired samplers through a combination of donations and purchases. Have the donors who gifted the samplers been informed of the Society’s plans to deaccession them? Will potential donors be reluctant to entrust the Society with their family heirlooms? It took forty years to build the Society’s sampler collection, which will be dispersed in the space on one afternoon.

I sincerely hope that the 1804 Mary Bowker sampler is recovered. I suggest that the BCHS reconsiders the sale of these samplers and pulls them from the auction block. If the auction proceeds, I hope that new homes for the samplers are found in public institutions, where the residents of New Jersey and visitors to your state can appreciate them.

Jennifer C. Core
Tennessee Sampler Survey

Janet's Letter to the Burlington County (NJ) Historical Society

1811 Charlotte Beck sampler
photo: Freeman's Auctioneers

November 17, 2010

To the Board of the Burlington County Historical Society:

It has come to my attention that the Burlington County Historical Society has deaccessioned and is selling their collection of New Jersey samplers. As a former museum curator at Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, TN, I am writing to urge you to withdraw the sampler collection from the sale. Before I moved to Tennessee in 1989, I lived in Berkeley Heights, NJ, for 15 years. It was there that I developed my love for American samplers when I attended sampler exhibits at the Museum of American Folk Art and the Cooper-Hewitt. I also visited the Burlington County Historical Society several times and was extremely impressed at the quantity and the superb quality of your sampler collection.

I am now involved in a project to locate and document samplers made in Tennessee before 1900. It was previously thought that there were few samplers made in the South. After living here a few years, I discovered that was not the truth, and have been endeavoring to disclaim it ever since. Samplers were an important part of female education in the 18th and 19th century in the South as well as the North. Researching and studying them can reveal a lot about the past, not only about female education, but about culture, economics, politics, and women's place in society. Your mission statement says that you believe in research and teaching New Jersey history. If that is true, how can you even think about deaccessioning primary artifacts? As an avid researcher, I can tell you that there is no substitute for examining primary artifacts!

You claim you want to use the money for turning the museum into a more interactive museum for students. The American Association of Museums Code of Ethics states: "Proceeds from the sale of nonliving collections are to be used consistent with the established standards of the museum's discipline, but in no event shall they be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections." Your stated goal for the funds raised by this sale is in direct violation of this. I suggest you contact the AAM or your accountant before you proceed with this sale.

Janet S. Hasson
Tennessee Sampler Survey

NJ Sampler Stolen

The 1804 Mary Bowker Sampler

The 1804 Mary Bowker sampler has been reported stolen, last seen by the Burlington County Historical Society on October 16, when it was left in a locked room to be photographed. The museum reported the theft to the police on October 26.

Anyone with knowledge that may aid in the recovery of the 1804 Mary Bowker sampler is asked to contact the Burlington County Historical Society at 457 High Street, Burlington, NJ 08016, 609-386-4773, burlcohistsoc@verizon.net or the Burlington City Police Department at its main number, 609-386-0262, or on its tip line at 609-233-8548.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Documentation Day: Smith Co. Sampler

1834 Jemima Clardy Mclelin
Smith Co.
silk on 32 ct. linen
17 1⁄4"V x 16 1⁄4"H © TSS 141

Jemima Clary Mclelin (McClelin) worked a very unusual sampler. Her large sawtooth border at the top and bottom contrasts with the floral repeat patterns found along the sides. Jemima used drawn work for the centers of the flowers on the left, an uncommon technique in Tennessee samplers.

We were able to remove the sampler from its frame and photograph the reverse, revealing a purple alphabet and yellow verse.

Jemima's signature is preceded by text from a Baptist hymn. Her mother's name is added at the end of the second line, perhaps indicating that Susan taught Jemima.

O grant me then this one request
And I will be satisfied / Susan Mclelin
That love divine may rule my breast
And all my actions guide
Jemima Clardy Mclelin. Sept. 15. 1834.

Source for text: Stennet, Samuel (1727-1795). Verse 9, “Should Bounteous Nature Kindly Pour.” A Selection of Hymns from the Best Authors, Intended to be an Appendix to Dr. Watts' Psalms and Hymns, 4th American ed. 1819.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Salem Female Academy: God's Acre

Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. Rev. 14:13.

I heard a story on the radio this morning about God's Acre, the Moravian cemetery in Salem, NC, and I was reminded of the short life of Martha Ross King, who is buried there.

Martha R. King.
born Jan: 9. 1821
Knox County
depd Dec: 28. 1835

In 2008, Janet and I spent a week at Old Salem's Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in 2008, researching Tennessee girls who attended school at Salem Female Academy from 1804-1908. Four hundred and eighty-two girls made the arduous journey from Tennessee to North Carolina in pursuit of an education. Martha Ross King and her younger sister Sarah Caroline King, of Campbell's Station, Knox County, arrived in Salem on June 19, 1835. The two girls were enrolling in their mother's alma mater. Isabella Sarah McNeil [King Wright] of Knoxville, Knox Co., had spent the years from 1815 to 1818 as a student at Salem Female Academy.

Six months later after the girls' arrival, Martha died in a cholera epidemic. Sarah remained a school for another year, departing on Nov. 25, 1836.

South Hall, the dormitory where Martha, Sarah, and Isabella resided

Martha was buried with other unmarried girls and women according to Moravian tradition, though she was not Moravian. The school archives contain a letter from the headmaster to her family in East Tennessee informing them of the circumstances of her death. The headmaster assured her step-father, Dr. William Wright, that Martha was provided with the best possible care and surrounded by people who loved her as she weakened.

Martha's grave is the eighth from the bottom on the left

Monday, March 29, 2010

Sisters' Samplers: Sally Durham and Jerusha Durham

Jerusha Candace Durham

The Durham sisters, Sarah (Sally) Johnson Durham (1817-1849) and Jerusha Candace Durham (1825-1880), worked two very different samplers. Sally's sampler, dated 1832, is a simple marking sampler, with the two alphabets, her name, and the date worked in cross stitch. Two rows of pulled thread work run across the top of the sampler.

1832 Sarah (Sally) Johnson Durham
Warren Co.
silk on linen
5 1/3"V x 7"H ©TSS 208

Jerusha's sampler is an elaborate affair, boasting complicated stitches such as buttonhole wheels. Jerusha included 24 sets of initials, many of them representing her two half-siblings and ten brothers and sisters.

1842 Jerusha Candace Durham
Smith Co. or DeKalb Co.
silk on 26 ct. linen
16 1⁄2"V x 17 1⁄4"H ©TSS 098

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sisters' Samplers: Susan Dysart and Clinton Dysart

(left) Susan Denny Dysart, with her husband Robert S. Montgomery
(right) Esther Elizabeth Clinton Dysart

The Dysart sisters of Palmetto, Marshall Co., produced three samplers between them. Susan Denny Dysart (1831-1881), the elder, worked a remarkable piece in 1847, at the age of 16. The large building motif on Susan's sampler may be Solomon's Temple. It is also found on Minerva Ann Elam's sampler of 1831 (TSS 004). Susan's first sampler, like her second and like her sister's, is still in the original frame. The initials A.R.E. are worked at the end of her row of numbers; perhaps they indicate her teacher.

1847 Susan Denny Dysart
Palmetto, Marshall Co.
silk and wool on 24 ct. learning canvas
25 1⁄4"V x 23 1⁄4"H © TSS 170

Susan's second sampler of 1851 is smaller and less complex. Worked on an unusual blue-gray perforated paper, the motto, border, and motifs features cross, cross over one, half-cross, rice, and satin stitches.

1851 Susan Denny Dysart
Palmetto, Marshall Co.
silk and wool on 20 ct. perforated paper
9 1⁄4"V x 11 1⁄4"H © TSS 170

Esther Elizabeth Clinton Dysart (1836-1878), known as Clinton, also finished a sampler in 1851. The two sisters probably worked their samplers together, sharing materials and motifs. Clinton suffered from epilepsy and Susan cared for her younger sister until Clinton's death. According to the family, Clinton had a seizure, fell into the fireplace, and later died from her injuries.

1851 Esther Elizabeth Clinton Dysart
silk and wool on 24 ct. wool/cotton blend
Palmetto, Marshall Co.
21 1⁄2"V x 23 1⁄4"H © TSS 17

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tennessee Decorative Arts Symposium, Belmont Mansion

Janet and I will be speaking at this symposium, Saturday, April 24, 2010, at Belmont Mansion, Nashville. See the mansion's website for more information.

1837-1840 Elisa J.? Holland
15 3⁄8"V x 16 3⁄4"H © TSS 124
silk on 34 V/30 H ct. linen

You are invited to join scholars, collectors, and historians from diverse backgrounds as they examine and interpret the material culture and decorative arts of the South with an emphasis on Tennessee.

Many of the early items used by Tennesseans were made out of necessity, for functional use, by local craftsman using local materials and later evolved into “fancy” works of art, furniture, and architecture. Since Tennessee was one of the first Federal territories to present itself for admission to the union outside the original colonies, an understanding of its role in the development of the South and the Nation is of great value. Tennesseans have played important roles in shaping the character of our Nation. Three presidents—Jackson, Polk, and Johnson have called Tennessee home and their involvement at the national level impacted many of the cultural affairs of Tennessee during the 19th century.

Tennessee’s three “grand divisions”— Middle Tennessee with its foothills and basin, East Tennessee with its mountainous terrain, and West Tennessee with its plains offered a variety of native materials and resources that were used by settlers in the early development of the state. This conference will highlight specific examples and recent discoveries which will enable you to see the stylistic changes clearly exhibited in the decorative arts of Tennessee and their origin. This symposium aims to address the ever growing interest in the decorative arts of Tennessee and to encourage the sharing of ideas and information. Seating is limited to 100 persons and advance registration by mail, fax, or online is required. Registration will be accepted on a first come, first served basis.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lecture, William King Museum, Abingdon, VA

c. 1858 Mag (Margaret) P. Evans Theorem (detail)
Greene Co.
15 1/4”V x 19 1/4”H © TSS 159
materials: pastels, pencil, watercolor
ground: paper

Janet and I will be speaking at the William King Museum in Abingdon, VA, on Sunday, March 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm, in conjunction with the current exhibit "An Educated Woman: Art from Girls' Schools and Womens' Collages." Our lovely Powerpoint slide show, which I have spent many hours perfecting, will showcase examples of samplers and theorems from East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

Visit the museum's website for directions and additional information.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

An Educated Woman: Art from Girls’ Schools and Women’s Colleges

January 22 through July 11, 2010

Art is interlaced in the history of women’s education. Academies used it to refine girls into ladies, and colleges instructed women in it for beautifying their future homes. An Educated Woman salutes the artistic endeavors of the women students of Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee and showcases pieces such as paintings, painted ceramics, and textiles ranging from the early nineteenth century to the 1920s.

Related Events

Members’ & Lenders’ Preview
Friday, January 22, 2010, 6 to 8 pm
Please note: You must be a museum member or a lender to the exhibition to attend the Prevue. Non-members who would like to attend are invited to become museum members at the door that evening.

Gallery Talk with Curator Elyse D. Gerstenecker
Tuesday, March 2, 7 pm

Girls only! See the exhibit and create your own ornamental art project inspired by the show.
Tuesday, March 23, 7:30 pm

For more information, visit the William King Museum's web site.

1857 Rachel Frances Spears
Hipshire Hollow, Hawkins Co.
silk on 26 V/28 H ct. linen
16"V x 17"H © TSS 143