May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Newburyport Needlework Picture

Artist unidentified Improvement

Newburyport, Massachusetts

c. 1805–1810

Silk on linen

16 1/4 x 17 1/2"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.48

Photo courtesy Sotheby's, New York

Artist unidentified

Newburyport Needlework Picture

Many needleworks at the turn of the nineteenth century featured elements that were part of the neoclassical scheme. Another popular theme was the idea of the pastoral. This unusual example is solidly worked in silk threads over the entire surface. It includes a three-story federal mansion in an idyllic scene far from the clustered community set across a wide stream. Female academies and seminary schools were frequently located in such bucolic settings, which were considered to be more physically and mentally healthful than urban centers. The building—perhaps a school?—is carefully detailed with mullioned windows, double-end chimneys, a widow’s walk, and a fanlight over the impressive doorway. The front garden is filled with beautiful flowering vines protected by a white fence from animals grazing in the landscape. This elegant scene is peopled with similarly refined figures who ramble along the paths in fashionable attire, slim cream- and rose-striped dresses for the women and cream- and rose-colored suits for the men. The needlework descended with a label stating it was embroidered by a nine-year-old Newburyport girl.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Newburyport Needlework Picture,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.