“Useful Hours: Needlework and Painted Textiles from Southern California Collections”
June 1–Sept. 2, 2013
Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art, Susan and Stephen Chandler Wing
Rebecca Ives Gilman (1746–1823), Ives Family Coat of Arms,
1763. Silk, gold and silver thread on black silk, 17 x 16 in.
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, promised
gift of Thomas H. Oxford and Victor Gail.
MARINO, Calif.—Taking its title from a verse stitched in a 1796 sampler
by 10-year-old Anne “Nancy” Moulton, “Useful Hours: Needlework and
Painted Textiles from Southern California Collections,” on view at The
Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens June 1–Sept.
2, 2013, explores the development of needlework and painted textiles in
the United States in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. With a
selection of 29 rare and finely wrought examples, the exhibition offers
extraordinary insight into the early training, daily lives, and social
and cultural values of American women during this rich period in
“Useful Hours” includes several exceedingly
rare pieces of 18th-century American needlework, drawn in large part
from the collection of Victor Gail and Thomas H. Oxford, a promised gift
to The Huntington, as well as from the collections of Los Angeles
County Museum of Art and private lenders. The 25 surprisingly beautiful,
touching, and painstakingly executed examples of American works are
juxtaposed with four examples of British needlework, a related painting,
American furniture, and other decorative arts objects, along with books
and manuscripts from The Huntington’s collections.
hope visitors feel the sense of amazement that I feel when I explore
these young women’s accomplishments,” said Harold B. “Hal” Nelson, The
Huntington’s curator of American decorative arts. “Their technical skill
and creativity within needlework traditions of the time are truly
marvelous. I also think people will be surprised when they realize these
remarkable pieces are all from Southern California collections,” he
added. “A common misconception is that the best American art collections
are only on the East Coast, but when you see these pieces you instantly
realize that is far from the case.”
“Useful Hours” is
organized thematically, focusing on a variety of subjects, themes, and
formats, including coats of arms, pictorial samplers, mourning pictures
and memorials, family trees, pockets and pocket books, marking samplers
(showing the basic stitches for practical domestic needs), and the
relationship between needlework teachers and students. Each section of
the exhibition illuminates the lives and accomplishments of the young
needleworkers based on new curatorial research.
The Highest Virtues for a Young Lady
“Nancy” Moulton, from whose work the exhibition takes its title,
stitched this verse into her pictorial sampler in 1796: “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.”
In these words, which appear on
several other samplers of the period, piety, self-improvement, and the
productive use of leisure time through activities such as needlework,
reading, and writing are presented as the highest virtues to which a
young lady might aspire. Moulton was the daughter of a prominent
Newburyport, Mass., silversmith. As with most American women in the 18th
century, she was taught at an early age the basic, or “plain,”
needleworking skills required for making, labeling, and repairing her
family’s clothing. But, as she was raised in relative affluence, she
also studied “fancy” needlework, more advanced needleworking skills, and
produced compositions that brought distinction to her family and
identified her as a young woman of great gentility and refinement.
Coats of Arms
of arms—insignia bearing crests, family names or inscriptions, and
sometimes including elaborate decorative ornamentation—became immensely
popular in the United States in the second half of the 18th century.
These symbols of a family’s wealth and aspirations for worldly status
were painted on canvas and paper, etched in silver, inscribed on
bookplates, as well as embroidered on silk. According to numerous
inventories of upper-middle class homes in the late 18th century, both
stitched and painted coats of arms often were framed and displayed in
the most prominent room of the home where they could be seen and enjoyed
by visitors as an indication of the family’s wealth and elevated social
The visually striking Ives Family Coat of Arms
was stitched by Rebecca Ives Gilman in 1763 when she was 17 years old
and is a testament to her social and economic standing. Ives’ parents
both were from prominent Massachusetts and New Hampshire families, and
the fine needlework in the piece demonstrates the attention paid to her
education and preparation for married life. Because Rebecca Ives married
Joseph Gilman in the same year she stitched this coat of arms, her “By
the Name of Ives” needlework became an enduring tribute to the family
and life she left behind.
she proudly states at the top of her composition, Eunice Hooper
stitched her extraordinarily lively and complex sampler when she was
just nine years old. Hooper’s remarkable work is part of a small group
of pictorial samplers all produced around 1790 by young women living or
studying in Marblehead, Mass., a prosperous fishing village north of
Salem. In this group of samplers, several have richly embroidered black
backgrounds and vivid scenes from everyday life. Hooper’s depicts a
woman reading seen through a window, another standing on the porch of a
house next to a handsomely dressed gentleman, and harvest imagery. This
scene is combined with idealized, classical images: a helmeted figure
riding in a chariot and a maiden dressed in classical attire and
sandals, seeming to welcome the charioteer. These moments, both real and
ideal, occur beneath a sky teeming with birds and butterflies and in a
landscape filled with lush blossoms and plants.
Mourning Pictures and Memorials
was a common part of life in the United States in the first decades of
the 19th century, and mourning pictures (images depicting grieving
figures standing beside neoclassical urns and tombs) and memorials (more
specific contemplative tributes to deceased relatives and friends)
became widely popular. These compositions often combine intricate
needlework in the trees and landscape with watercolor painting to render
greater detail in the grieving figure’s face, hands, and costuming.
touching example in “Useful Hours” is by Elizabeth Allen, who stitched a
tender memorial tribute to her deceased father when she was 19.
Elizabeth herself died just five years later at the age of 24.
trees were another type of needlework popular at the time. A
beautifully designed example by Elizabeth Stone, stitched in 1820 when
she was 12, takes the form of a “tree of life” or “apple tree” sampler.
Its three-sided flower and leaf border and its use of yellow fruit for
the female siblings and white fruit for the male siblings, is typical of
needlework produced in Middlesex County, Mass., in the first quarter of
the 19th century. The linked or overlapping heart motif at the base of
the tree is also typical of work produced in this region.
Pockets and Pocketbooks
most 18th-century women’s clothing lacked fixed pockets, detachable
pockets were tied around the waist and worn either over a dress or under
an overskirt. Decorated in a variety of patterns, including a
combination of flame and diamond-within-diamond designs, they were used
to carry a great variety of items from keys and papers to sewing
implements and tools.
Pocketbooks were used by both men
and women in the late 18th century. As with one on view in “Useful
Hours” that was made in 1776 by Elisabeth Fellows, an owner’s name or
initials were stitched into the purse to facilitate its return if lost
Marking and Darning Samplers
their spare color and minimal decoration, marking and darning samplers
possess the fundamental qualities of usefulness, plainness, and
simplicity associated with the Society of Friends (or Quaker)
needlework. Two of these samplers in “Useful Hours” were stitched by Ann
Gibson, a young student at the Westtown School in Chester County,
Penn., an academy run by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the
Religious Society of Friends. The first is a darning sampler utilizing
the basic stitches and patterns used for repairing socks and other forms
of clothing. Unlike many other samplers in the exhibition, which are
brightly colored and richly decorative or narrative, the beauty of
Gibson’s sampler lies in its simplicity and practicality. Ann Gibson’s
second sampler, an exercise in geometric medallions, half-medallions,
and abstract patterns, includes a so-called “Quaker rose,” often seen in
samplers produced by girls studying at Society of Friends academies.
Teacher and Student
girls at the time were likely to learn needle work from a local
authority—sometimes a school teacher in the town—and in other cases, a
specialist who would often advertise her skills and classes in the local
or regional newspaper. While over the course of time, the names of most
needlework teachers have been lost or forgotten, one unusual sampler in
“Useful Hours” includes the name of the young artist’s instructor. In
addition to acknowledging her parents, Isabel Arthur stitched the name
of her teacher, Mary Tidball, in a prominent location above the roofline
of the centrally place house. Several other wool on linen samplers of
this period all done in a similar style—with brightly colored, broadly
patterned, and highly stylized trees, flowers, and houses—feature the
same teacher’s name. They range in date from 1836 to 1852 and were made
in western Pennsylvania. Mary Tidball taught needlework classes near the
Bethel Presbyterian Church in Bethel Park, Penn., southwest of
Pittsburgh, says Nelson.
The Collection of Victor Gail and Thomas H. Oxford
Gail-Oxford Collection, comprising more than 500 objects, from historic
American furniture and paintings to ceramics, metals, and needlework,
is a promised gift to The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and
Botanical Gardens. While several samplers from the Gail-Oxford
Collection have been shown at The Huntington in the past, “Useful Hours”
is the first exhibition to explore in depth this aspect of the
This exhibition is supported by the Susan and
Stephen Chandler Exhibition Endowment and funds from Steve Martin for
exhibitions of American Art.
Curator Tour: “Useful Hours: Needlework and Painted Textiles from Southern California Collections”
June 12 (Wednesday) 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Join curator Hal Nelson for a private tour of the exhibition. Members: $15. Non-Members: $20. Registration: 626-405-2128.
Anne “Nancy” Moulton (Born 1786–n.d.), Sampler, 1796. Silk on linen, 23 ¼ x 20 3/8 in. Huntington Library, Art
Collections, and Botanical Gardens, promised gift of Thomas H. Oxford and Victor Gail.
Elizabeth Neil Andrews (1804–1846), Sampler, 1813. Silk on linsey-woolsey, 14 ¾ x 10 ¾ in. Huntington Library, Art
Collections, and Botanical Gardens, promised gift of Thomas H. Oxford and Victor Gail.
Mary Graham (born 1791–n.d.), Sampler, 1804. Silk on linen, 20 x 25 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, promised gift of Thomas H. Oxford and Victor Gail.
Elizabeth R. Allen (1792–1816), Memorial to Captain John Allen, 1811. Silk and watercolor on paper, 13 x 14 ½ in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, promised gift of Thomas H. Oxford and Victor Gail.
Sally Mead (1801–1874), Family Tree, ca. 1812. Silk on linen, 15 ¾ x 12 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, promised gift of Thomas H. Oxford and Victor Gail.
Mary Taylor (1803– n.d.), Sampler with Basket of Flowers, 1812. Silk on linen 16 x 14 in. Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, promised gift of Thomas H. Oxford and Victor Gail.
Eunice Hooper (1781–1866), Sampler, ca. 1790. Silk on linen, 21 x 21 ¼ in. Collection of Jonathan and Karin Fielding, Los Angeles.
Elizabeth Fellows (n.d.), Pocketbook, 1776. Wool on linen, cotton, 4 ½ × 8 ⅝ in. Collection of Jonathan and Karin Fielding, Los Angeles.
CONTACTS: Thea M. Page, 626-405-2260, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lisa Blackburn, 626-405-2140, email@example.com
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[EDITOR’S NOTE: High-resolution digital images available on request for publicity use.]
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