Exhibitions | Stitched in Time / The Art of the Quilter

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on December 1, 2022

From the press release (25 October 2022) for the new exhibitions:

Stitched in Time: American Needlework
DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, 3 December 2022 — 2 January 2025

The Art of the Quilter
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, Colonial Williamsburg, 3 December 2022 — August 2023

Bed Rug, Connecticut, possibly Norwich or New London, 1785 (Colonial Williamsburg, Museum Purchase, Dr. and Mrs. T. Marshall Hahn Jr. Fund, 2014.609.6).

Two new textile exhibitions opening at the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg on 3 December 2022 are sure to delight museum visitors. Stitched in Time: American Needlework, an exhibition of nearly 60 examples of bedrugs, whitework, embroidered hand towels, quilted petticoats, samplers, mourning and commemorative needlework, crewelwork, needlework with religious and geographical influences as well as sewing accessories, will remain on view through 2 January 2025 at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. Additionally, an entirely new rotation of objects in the popular exhibition The Art of the Quilter that opened in 2021 will feature 15 pieces, 12 of which are recent acquisitions that have never before been displayed. This configuration of the exhibition, which will remain on view through August 2023 at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum, will include eleven large quilts, one woven coverlet and three doll-size quilts that tell stories about people from America’s past and the societies in which they lived.

“For decades The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has collected textiles from a broad and highly diverse array of ethnic, cultural, and regional communities,” said Ronald Hurst, senior vice president for education and historic resources. “These new exhibitions allow us to share these beautiful and story-laden documents of early American society with the visiting public.”

Sampler by Mary Welsh, Massachusetts, ca. 1770 (Colonial Williamsburg, Museum Purchase, 1962-309).

Needlework and sewing were common threads in the lives of most 18th- and 19th-century females across social, economic, and geographical boundaries. Early American women—whether poor, enslaved, indigenous, middle class, or wealthy—contributed to their family’s household furnishings and enriched their homes and clothing by embellishing textiles with decorative stitches. Sewing and mending everyday household textiles, such as bed and table linens and clothing, was another way for women to contribute economically to their family. Stitching needlework projects was not only a creative outlet for many housewives, but was also an educational tool for young schoolgirls. These themes are the basis for Stitched in Time: American Needlework, which will be on view in the Len and Cyndy Alaimo Gallery. The exhibition will also highlight the diversity and regional variations of American needlework that can be traced through the ethnic origins of the makers, trade and migration patterns, influential teachers and artists, current fashions, religious affiliations, geography, and even climate.

“We are excited to share The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s regionally and ethnically diverse needlework collection with our museum visitors,” said Kimberly Smith Ivey, senior curator of textiles. “Over 50 textiles for comparison have been selected from regions of New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the South, and the Western Frontier. Highlights of the exhibition include a schoolgirl sampler created by a young Jewish girl who inscribed her work with her hometown of Chicago. Another extraordinary embroidery was created by an Irish immigrant in Frenchtown, Michigan, at the Oblate Sisters of Providence School, which was cofounded by Mother Theresa Maxi Duchermin, a Catholic of color.”

Among the many other highlights of Stitched in Time is a rare bed rug made probably in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1785 by an unknown maker who signed the rug “RD.” The rug relates to a group of embroidered rugs created in the Connecticut River Valley. It was made by darning, or stitching, closely spaced rows of heavy wool yarn through a woolen ground, leaving most of the stitches visible on the surface. The side and bottom borders consist of abstract scalloped and peaked lines similar in appearance to Irish stitch needlework, but worked with darning stitches. This bed rug is especially attractive because of its remarkable condition.

Among the many examples of extraordinary samplers in the exhibition is one made in 1827 by Mary Rees, a student of Elizabeth Robinson (1778-1865), in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Robinson, an unmarried woman who lived with her five unmarried sisters in their family homestead left to them by their father, worked as a schoolmistress to help support the family. At least eight samplers or pictures have been identified from Elizabeth Robinson’s school. Mary Rees’ cross-stitched verse and her pictorial composition made of silk and wool embroidery threads on a linen ground are perfectly suited to each other. The verse implores all living things to praise their Maker, while the imagery shows some of the plants and animals requested to pay such tribute. Rees’ careful selection of thread color and the direction and type of stitching makes the scene both decorative and naturalistic. The embroidered scene bordered in black stitches to imitate a reverse painted glass mat and the title, date, and signature worked in bright threads to mimic a more expensive gold leaf inscription are characteristics found on other embroideries worked under the instruction of Elizabeth Robinson.

A highly sophisticated embroidered picture attributed by family history to Orra Sears (1798–1872) of Bloomfield, New York, is another highlight of Stitched in Time. It is believed that Orra created the picture in 1816, when she was a boarding student at the Litchfield Female Academy in Connecticut. School records indicate that Orra attended the school that year; she was one of at least 2,000 girls from nearly every state who attended the academy from 1792 through 1833 when the school operated. Students from out of town, such as Orra, boarded with Litchfield families. American educational goals of the period stressed the proficient duplication in embroidery of idealized themes that were widely recognized and approved of, rather than the development of individual creativity. Needlework compositions were taken from existing illustrations, usually English engravings or other printed images. Here, at least four different prints depicting views of Chiswick, an English country house, were used to create the scene on Orra’s embroidered and painted picture.

In its second year of a three-year exhibition, The Art of the Quilter’s latest rotation in the Foster and Muriel McCarl Gallery promises to continue delighting quilt aficionados with its new selection of quilts from The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s heralded collection from the early 19th century to present day. These diverse quilts allowed women to express artistic instincts while also creating a warm and practical bedcover for their loved ones. Making quilts was often a community activity, in which neighbors and relatives enjoyed the pleasures of joint work and socializing.

Ivey said of the exhibition, “We are literally covering America with this exhibition. The bed coverings display a variety of techniques, colors and materials, and demonstrate America’s multicultural society with examples from the Anglo-American, German, Amish and Mennonite communities.” . . .

The full press release is available here»

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