Auctioneer and appraiser Jamie Shearer highlights a Philadelphia silk on silk pictorial embroidery by Ann Marsh, ca. 1730, with a vibrant urn of flowers with insect and bird, all resting on a rolling lawn with sheep and a running dog, retaining the original tombstone arched walnut frame. “Where do you find an almost three-hundred-year-old needlework in vibrant colors, still in its original frame?” he asks, “The skill level needed to create this remarkable work of art is very inspiring. I can envision a young girl spending hours with great care and thought expressing herself through needle and thread. Just as skilled as the best painter on canvas or the furniture maker with a chisel, an everlasting gift to the antique collectors in all of us.” At the Marsh School, the daughters of elite Philadelphia Quaker families were taught by Ann, alongside her mother Elizabeth, from 1723-1795. A core subject in female education, the art of ornamental embroidery taught skills necessary for domestic life. Marsh works are rare, and according to Betty Ring, are the earliest identifiable group of Philadelphia needleworks. Two other Marsh school works include a 1737 silk on linen sampler wrought by Hannah Trotter.
Another needlework school researched and collected by Patricia Herr is the Lampeter School of Chester County. A very rare silk on linen sampler, dated 1799, wrought by Phebe Harvey of Pennsbury Township, Chester County, is possibly the only known sampler naming the school.
Chief amongst the seven works from the Lititz Moravian School is a silk on silk memorial embroidered sampler, attributed to Mary Ann or Rebecca Catherine Peterson, ca. 1833, in memory of their father, John Peterson, with a large willow and urn of flowers, a floral spray, and two children flanking a grave. In the words of Patricia Herr, it is “an outstanding example of the needlework done at the Lititz Moravian Boarding School. The silk needlework is 3 dimensional, the flowers & leaves standing out over the finely drawn girls on each side of the tomb,” (theherrsantiques.com). Other works from the Lititz Moravian School include a silk on silk embroidery, dated 1817, inscribed Ellen B. Hawkins, with Moses in the Bulrushes; and the earliest known Lititz silk mourning embroidery, ca. 1805, attributed to Sara Pim, Columbia mourns for Washington.
From the school of Mrs. Catharine Welshans Buchanan, in Marietta, Lancaster County, a scarce silk on linen memorial needlework, dated 1827, is inscribed Eliz Groshs work made in Marietta in Mrs. Buchnans School in the year of our Lord 1811, with women flanking a memorial under a willow tree, all under a wide floral arch. Also featured is a sampler, ca. 1845, wrought by Fanny Stauffer. Mrs Buchanan kept a school for young ladies beginning ca.1823. Very few samplers are known to name the school.
An important Colerain Township School, Lancaster County silk on linen sampler is rich in detail. A floral border surrounds floral urns, over two houses with green lawns, white picket fences, birds, and sheep.
The distinctive style of another Philadelphia group, Mary Zeller’s School (active 1789-1808), exhibits grand homes surrounded by park-like grounds and gardens that teem with people and animals. Attributed to Mary Zeller’s School, a silk on linen needlework inscribed Abigal Jones her work 1793, is the family record of Samuel and Elizabeth Jones and their eight children, born 1732-1771. Adam and Eve appear above a Georgian vision of Eden with a manor house set in gardens, and figures (including a man with a gun) and animals, surrounded by strawberry plants.
Dresden work was widely taught, but became peculiar to Philadelphia in the mid to late 18th c. One of two featured works is a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Dresden work sampler, dated 1787, wrought by Susanna Meyer, an excellent example of this form, with decorative ribbon border and original Philadelphia frame.
In addition to collecting members of schools, Patricia Herr linked members of family trees, with multiple works by members of the Trout, Minnich, and Lefever families.
By: Cynthia Beech Lawrence