Collecting American samplers in Southern California
from The Magazine ANTIQUES, May/June 2013 |
Best known for its expansive sandy beaches, stately palms, and glorious golden sunsets-as well as numerous superb collections of modern and contemporary art-Los Angeles is, perhaps unexpectedly, also home to a significant number of important and excitingly diverse American decorative arts collections. While some Southern California collectors have been amassing important holdings of American art since the late 1950s, others are relatively new to the field. However, all approach collecting Americana with an equal mix of intellectual curiosity, a love of beautiful objects rich in layered meaning, and a desire to connect with this nation's shared cultural history through objects.
"Good fortune/good timing" describes the felicitous and sometimes unexpected manner in which collections develop, as seen in four remarkable Los Angeles-based collections of American needlework. Examples from all four will be featured in an exhibition called Useful Hours: Needlework and Painted Textiles from Southern California Collections, at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens from June 1 to September 2.1 Together these works provide a wide-ranging survey of schoolgirl needlework in this country, including coats of a
In recounting how they built their collections, the collectors all referred to the linked concepts of "good fortune" and "good timing." Each claimed that "being at the right place at the right time" was critical to their success. However, what was not discussed but taken as a given was the importance of preliminary preparation-the hours of research, background reading, and looking-that each collector had undertaken before pursuing an acquisition. This passionate (and what some described as a "near-obsessive") exploration was, undoubtedly, as critical to the development of these collections as were good fortune and good timing.rms, family records, mourning pictures, pocketbooks, and pictorial compositions worked by girls between the ages of eight and nineteen between 1763 and 1844. As a group, the works offer insight into the early training, daily lives, and social and cultural values of American women during this rich period in American history.
Each of the four individuals or couples has approached collecting in a different manner. Victor Gail and his late partner Thomas H. Oxford began collecting American furniture and related decorative arts in the early 1960s.2 Their passion for needlework is just one component of an interest in all aspects of early American history and decorative arts. By contrast, Mary Jaene Edmonds who has donated three Society of Friends samplers to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, one of which is shown here, has an abiding interest in American samplers and their makers. Edmonds is both a scholar and a collector, and her book Samplers and Samplermakers: An American Schoolgirl Art, 1700-1850 has contributed significantly to the field since it was first published in 1991. Like the Gail-Oxford Collection, the collections of both Jonathan and Karin Fielding and Katharine Pease are wide-ranging and diverse and reflect the collectors' interest in American folk art, culture, and history.
While, at first glance vibrant color and bold design seem to characterize many of the works, there are also numerous samplers-particularly the marking and darning samplers done in the Quaker tradition-that are as subtle as a white-on-white painting by Kazimir Malevich or the evanescent compositions of Agnes Martin. In the end, the samplers collected in Southern California, while remarkably distinguished, are as representative of American needlework traditions as those in any such collection in the United States. The following works are among the highlights of these collections and of Useful Hours.
By Eunice Hooper (1781-1866)
Marblehead, Massachusetts, c. 1790. Silk on linen, 21 by 21 ¼ inches. Collection of Karin and Jonathan Fielding.
As she proudly stitched at the top, Eunice Hooper worked this lively composition when she was just nine years old. It belongs to a small group of pictorial samplers produced about 1790 to 1791 by young women living or studying in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Needlework scholar Betty Ring praised Marblehead samplers as "incomparable," adding that they had "no foreign counterparts and represent American girlhood embroidery at its best."3 In the group (several of which have richly embroidered black backgrounds, as here), vivid moments from everyday life-such as the woman reading viewed through a window and the one standing on the porch next to a handsomely dressed gentleman-and images of the late summer harvest are combined with idealized, classical imagery. The scenes take place beneath a sky teeming with birds and butterflies and in a landscape filled with lush blossoms and plants.4
The daughter of Captain Samuel Hooper and Elizabeth Trevett, Eunice married John Hooper (1776-1854), a "man of great business energy and shrewdness, combined with much regard for equity and public spirit."5 They had nine children. Hooper's elegant silk and satin wedding dress in the then-fashionable Empire style is today in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Ives family coat of arms
By Rebecca Ives Gilman (1746-1823)
Beverly, Massachusetts, 1763. Silk and gold and silver thread on black silk, 17 by 16 inches. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California, promised gift of Victor Gail and Thomas H. Oxford.
Heraldic works were among the most impressive products of the needle arts in eighteenth-century America. This coat of arms (one of the rarest pieces in the Gail-Oxford Collection) was stitched by Rebecca Ives Gilman when she was seventeen years old. She was the only daughter of Captain Benjamin Ives and Elizabeth Hale Ives, both from prominent Massachusetts and New Hampshire families, who were married in Beverly on October 12, 1743. In the year she stitched the coat of arms (and thus gave up her maiden name of Ives), Rebecca married Joseph Gilman in Salem, and they moved to his family home in Exeter, New Hampshire. He became a prominent businessman and community leader. In 1788 they and their son Benjamin (b. 1766) moved west to newly developing settlements near present-day Marietta, Ohio. Over the next several years, Joseph Gilman was appointed to offices of increasing responsibility and influence, including, in 1796, an appointment by George Washington as judge of the Northwest Territory. After her husband's death, Rebecca remained in Ohio until about 1812 when she moved to Philadelphia to be near Benjamin.6
That fancy needlework was but a part of Rebecca Ives's education is confirmed in an account in an 1869 Gilman family genealogy: "Mrs. Gilman's...education was far superior to that of most ladies of her time, being chiefly acquired under the direction of her grandfather, the Honorable Robert Hale. By him her literary taste was highly cultivated, and a love acquired for books and useful reading that attended her through life. She was familiar with the best writers of Queens Anne and Elizabeth, could read French authors with facility, and her acuteness was such in polite literature, that when any disputed point arose among the learned visitors and circles at her fireside, she was often appealed to as an umpire, and her decisions were usually decisive of the question, and seldom appealed from."7
A closely related coat of arms with the same inscription, "By the name of Ives," was illustrated in Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe's watershed 1921 publication American Samplers and included in a needlework exhibition at the Women's Educational and Industrial Union in Boston in 1937.8 At the time, that coat of arms was in the collection of a direct descendant of Rebecca's brother Robert Hale Ives (its present location is not known). It is quite likely that Rebecca stitched both coats of arms, one as a gift to her beloved brother.9
By Anne "Nancy" Moulton (b. 1786)
Newburyport, Massachusetts, 1796. Silk on linen 23 ¼ by 20 . inches. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gail-Oxford promised gift.
This unusually large sampler with its meandering floral border depicts a pastoral landscape in which wild and domesticated animals peacefully coexist. Made in Newburyport, Massachusetts, it is related to a group of compositions that Betty Ring described as the "Shady Bower" samplers.10 The heart and trefoil bands and the checkered sawtooth border are also frequently seen in Newburyport samplers of the period. Anne Moulton used the so-called "long stitch" in her landscape, a stitch characteristically used in needlework from this region. Needlework scholar Tricia Wilson Nguyen has identified Betty (or Betsy) Bradstreet (1738-1815) of Newburyport as the possible teacher of the girls who worked these samplers.11 Born in Newburyport, Anne Moulton (also known as Nancy) was one of twelve children of American silversmith Joseph Moulton (1744-1816) and his wife Abigail Noyes Moulton (1744-1818).12 She worked the sampler in 1796 when she was ten. However, as the unstitched pencil marks below the central flowering tree indicate, she never fully completed it.13 Also noteworthy is that the numbers indicating the year of her birth seem to have been removed at a later date, perhaps to conceal her age. A related sampler was stitched by Moulton's sister Phoebe Lane Moulton in 1792.14
Victor Gail purchased this sampler from a Southern California dealer in 1989, along with six pieces of silver by members of the Moulton family, including Anne's father, Joseph, that had come to California with family descendants.
By Ann Gibson (b. 1792)
Westtown School, ChesterCounty, Pennsylvania, 1806. Silk and flax on linen, 8 5/16 inches square. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Mary Jaene and Jim Edmonds; photograph Museum Associates/LACMA licensed by Art Resource, New York.
This darning sampler displays the fundamental qualities of usefulness, plainness, and simplicity associated with Quaker needlework. Gibson was a student at the Westtown School, established in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1799.
By Isabel Arthur (b. 1830)
Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, 1840. Wool on linen, 16 ½ by 24 inches. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gail-Oxford promised gift.
In her vividly colored sampler, Isabel Arthur not only stitched the names of her parents-William and Jane-but also included the name of her needlework instructor, Mary Tidball. Her work is part of a small group of samplers made in western Pennsylvania between 1836 and 1852. First identified by Ring in Girlhood Embroidery, they are characterized by highly stylized and disproportionately scaled images of flowers, trees, birds, and insects, and they typically include Tidball's name. While little is known about Tidball's life or training, recent research has located her school at the Bethel Presbyterian Church near Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, southwest of Pittsburgh.15
By Elizabeth Stone (b. 1808)
Middlesex County, Massachusetts, 1820. Silk on linen, 16 by 15 ¾ inches. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gail-Oxford promised gift.
This "tree of life" sampler, with its three-sided flower-and-leaf border and its use of yellow or gold fruit for the female siblings and white or silver fruit for the males, is typical of needlework produced in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The intertwined or overlapping hearts motif at the base of the tree is also typical of the region. Twelve-year-old Elizabeth Stone recorded on the sampler that she was the eldest child of William (1781-1856) and Elizabeth Coolidge (1784-1874), who were married in Watertown, Massachusetts on April 9, 1807. Eight years after completing this family record, Elizabeth married Seriah Stevens (1793-1855). They settled in Boston and raised their three children there.
Memorial to John Allen
By Elizabeth Robinson Allen (1792-1816)
Barre, Massachusetts, 1811. Silk and watercolor on paper on silk, 13 by 14 ½ inches. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gail-Oxford promised gift.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Captain John and Hannah Robinson Allen (b. 1767). Her mother and father's families lived in Barre, Massachusetts, a rural community in the central part of the state, where they married in 1788. The eldest daughter of their seven children, Elizabeth stitched this tender tribute to her father when she was nineteen. She died just five years later in 1816, at twenty-four.
By Elisabeth Fellows, 1776
Wool on linen, cotton; 4 ½ by 8 . inches. Fielding Collection.
Pocketbooks such as this one were used by both men and women in the eighteenth century. While men's purses were used to carry coins, bills, paper money, invoices, and receipts, women typically used theirs for jewelry, sewing implements, and other personal items. Often an owner's name or initials were stitched into the purse to facilitate its return if lost or stolen. Advertisements for lost pocketbooks frequently appear in eighteenth-century newspapers.
By Sarah Maria Hunt (b. 1830)
Hunterdon County, New Jersey, 1844. Wool on linen, 16 ½ by 24 inches. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, Gail-Oxford promised gift.
Sarah Maria Hunt was, as her sampler describes, the daughter of Samuel R. (b. 1795) and Huldah P. Hunt (b. 1794). She later married Joshua Carter (b. 1820) and they subsequently moved to the Midwest. According to the 1850 United States Census, Sarah, then twenty years old, her husband, and her mother were all living on a farm in Keeler, Michigan, in Van Buren County in the western part of the state. According to needlework researchers Dan and Marty Campanelli, the trio-of-strawberries border, the unconventional lions (which they have dubbed "the funky lion" motif), the pine trees, the checkered pots with flowers, the willows, and the fruit trees all link this sampler to Hunterdon County needlework traditions of the first half of the nineteenth century.16
By Lydia Stockton (1793-1864)
Burlington County, New Jersey, 1804. Silk and painted paper on linen, 16 ½ inches square. Collection of Katharine Pease.
This richly detailed pictorial sampler is part of a small group produced in 1804 by girls at a Society of Friends school in Burlington County, New Jersey.17 With their elegant mansions and well-stocked lawns and gardens, these samplers convey a sense of agrarian prosperity and worldly abundance. According to needlework scholars Leslie and Peter Warwick, the seven works in the group share many of the following elements: a young lady with a painted paper face and bonnet seated on a horse and accompanied by her dog; a centrally placed two- or three-story house with numerous windows and brown or green shutters; groups of two to four cedar trees flanking the house, in front of a long stone or brick wall; a variety of barnyard animals rambling on an enclosed lawn or in a lush landscape; and pots or baskets of flowers and fruit in the middle- or foreground. Typically, the composition is divided into three horizontal bands, with the needleworker's name or initials stitched at the top along with the year in which the sampler was produced, and with sawtooth borders at the top and bottom.
Lydia, the daughter of Job Stockton (1766-1828) and Ann Ridgway (1771-1816), was about ten when she made this sampler. Her cousin Ann Stockton (1793-1828) studied at the same Quaker school and produced a remarkably similar sampler. The Warwicks have suggested Lydia Bullock as the possible teacher of the girls in this group.
HAROLD B. "HAL" NELSON is Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, San Marino, California
1 The exhibition takes is title from a verse in Anne Moulton's sampler (see p. 147), which reads: "How blest the maid whom circling years improve, her God the object of her warmest love, whose useful hours, successive as they glide, the book, the needle, and the pen divide." 2 For more on the Gail-Oxford Collection, a promised gift to the Huntington, see David A. Schorsch, "Living with antiques: The Gail Oxford collection of American antiques in southern California," The Magazine Antiques, vol. 142, no. 3 (September 1992), pp. 352-359. 3 Betty Ring, Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework, 1650-1850 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1993), vol. 1, p. 131. 4 A closely related embroidery by Sukey Jarvis Smith is illustrated ibid., p. 136. The same teacher undoubtedly provided both girls with their designs. 5 Charles Henry Pope and Thomas Hooper, Hooper Genealogy (Charles H. Pope, Boston, 1908), p. 136. 6 Mrs. Charles P. Noyes, A Family History in Letters and Documents, 1667-1837 (privately printed, St. Paul, Minn., 1919). 7 Arthur Gilman, The Gilman Family... (Albany, N.Y., 1869), p. 91. 8 Ethel S. Bolton and Eva J. Coe, American Samplers (Massachusetts Society of Colonial Dames of America, Boston, 1921), pp. 404, 406; and Ring, Girlhood Embroidery, vol. 1, p. 276. 9 Needlework scholar Jennifer Swope has suggested that the Ives family coat of arms represents an important transition from-or perhaps a style concurrent with-the more traditional diamond or "hatchment" configuration for family crests to a vertical, rectangular format. In this respect, she noted in an e-mail message to me dated June 5, 2012, it is similar to several others most notably the Shaw family coat of arms in the New London County Historical Society. 10 While this sampler is stylistically related to the group, it lacks the "by the shady bower" verse typically seen in the work in this group. See Ring, Girlhood Embroidery, vol. 1, pp. 114-123. 11 E-mail to the author, May 16, 2012. 12 Henry W. Moulton, Moulton Annals (Edward A. Claypool, Chicago, 1906), p. 280. 13 Tricia Nguyen told me that this is the only known sampler from this region where the instructor's drawing is visible. 14 Phoebe Lane Moulton's composition is reproduced and discussed in Stephen and Carol Huber, Miller's Samplers: How to Compare and Value (Octopus Publishing Group, London, 2002), p. 33. 15 Harley N. Trice. "Western Pennsylvania Textiles," in Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition (Westmoreland Museum of American Art, Greensburg, Penn., 2007), pp. 42-43. 16 E-mail to the author, September 18, 2012. The Campanellis' A Sampling of Hunterdon County Needlework: The Motifs, the Makers, and Their Stories will be published by the Hunterdon County Historical Society in June 2013. 17 Leslie and Peter Warwick have identified six other samplers in this group. While five are dated 1804, one-a sampler by Mary Antrim-features her name and the year 1807 on a semicircular paper framed above the sampler. The Warwicks note that Antrim's sampler was most likely also stitched in 1804 but placed in the frame in 1807. Leslie and Peter Warwick, "Society of Friends: A Pictorial Needlework School in Burlington County, New Jersey," Antiques and Fine Art, Spring 2012, pp. 174-179.