Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Mourning embroidery

After a lifetime of collecting, Betty Ring has cornered the market on antique samplers and other embroidery by American schoolgirls. On Jan. 22nd, she will be letting some of her collection go in a sale by Sotheby's (see on-line auction catalog here). Ring is the foremost scholar in this area and wrote the definitive reference book in the field: Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers and Pictorial Needlework, 1650-1850 (read text here). The book is referenced in the description of an embroidered mourning picture in the National Museum of American History. The Ring collection contains plenty of similar examples, most identified by city and many attributed to specific girls practicing with needle and thread in 19th c. New England. Many of the pieces, which document the rising merchant class in America that had the wealth and aspiration to educate their young daughters, became treasured family heirlooms and now command a dear price - an estimated $50,000+ in the case of the 3rd image above. The auction lot of 175 examples is so impressive that many of today's embroiderers are traveling to New York to see it, whether or not they intend to place a bid. One of the symbols of grief requisite in such mourning scenes - also seen on gravestones - is the weeping willow.

1st image) Embroidered and Painted Silk Mourning Picture Sacred to the Memory of Josiah Torrey, probably Boston, c. 1800, 2nd image) Embroidered and Painted Silk Mourning Picture by Betsey Clarke, Miss Patten’s School, Hartford, Connecticut, c. 1809, 3rd image) Silk Embroidered and Painted Mourning Picture to the Memory of the Illustrious George Washington, Philadelphia, c. 1807.

Thanks to Cris for bringing this to my attention during her visit this weekend. She is acquainted with the woman who served as conservator for many of Betty Ring's pieces.

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