May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

New Hampshire, possibly West Nottingham

c. 1819

Watercolor, pencil, and ink on bird’s-eye maple

28 5/8 x 18 5/8 x 18"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2005.8.50

Photo by John Parnell


Some schools offered instruction to female students, at a premium, in painting on occasional pieces of furniture, such as worktables and sewing tables. The under drawings were either the original work of the student or the tracings or copies of a published source or pattern provided by a teacher. Once transferred to the wooden surfaces—usually a tabletop and its four sides—the outlines were then retraced in ink and the images filled in with watercolor. After it was completed by the student, the table was usually professionally varnished before being displayed in her home.

The delicate watercolor on the top of this worktable depicts the State House in Concord, New Hampshire, after its completion in 1819. State houses, capitol buildings, city halls, and courthouses were designed with an eye to the larger symbolic role they played in the public consciousness. Portrayals of such government seats by young female students were artistic expressions but also inculcated a culture of support for the new nation.

Stacy C. Hollander, “Worktable,” 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.