May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Providence, Rhode Island


Silk, metallic thread, and human hair on linen, in original frame

19 1/4 x 13 1/2" (sight)

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2013.1.47

Photo courtesy Sotheby’s, New York

Rebecca Carter Sampler

Schoolmistresses played a pivotal role in the new nation by educating the young women who would be responsible for raising the first generations of independent Americans. Ornamental arts such as needlework represented creative collaborations between teacher and student and were also intended to instill moral and civic values in impressionable minds. This example is dominated by the imposing architecture of the State House in Providence, attesting to the ideals of the nation and the development of its infrastructure through the establishment of august bodies of government.

Rebecca Carter was born into an influential Providence family. Her father, John Carter, apprenticed with Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia before becoming editor of the Providence Gazette. At his death, he was honored as a disciple of George Washington and an advocate for the Constitution of the United States, which Rhode Island ratified in 1790. Though he struggled financially through the war years, Carter sent his elder daughter Ann to school in Newport, where she began this sampler. It was completed in 1788 by her sister Rebecca at the renowned Providence school operated by Mary Balch (1762–1831).

Stacy C. Hollander, “Rebecca Carter Sampler,” 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.