Friday, May 28, 2010

Remembering Those We Loved

As Memorial Day approaches, our thoughts go to those who not only served our country and were lost at War, but to those close to us whom we have lost. Last summer my nephew, Adam Beatty, lost his long hard battle with a rare form of cancer.  It was hard on the family to lose someone so young, but Adam taught us all how to handle his illness with strength and dignity and to know that he didn't give up the fight until he was ready.  So now I would like to take some things important to Adam and his family and create a memorial sampler to honor his life. 
In preparing for this, I started looking at various mourning samplers and art to see what type of layout and design I might like to use in this piece.  I thought it might make for an interesting blog post since we are about to celebrate Memorial Day here in the States. So I will share some of my research and thoughts with you and maybe you can share with us ideas you have used in creating memorial or family samplers special to you. I know I enjoy hearing others' ideas and sometimes it helps me in creating special designs of my own as well.

How do we commemorate those we have lost while allowing ourselves to mourn and remember those special to us?  Mourning art has been around for a very long time, and was especially prevalent during Victorian times. People seemed to sentimentalize death.  Hair jewelry - rings, necklaces and brooches were created from the hair of lost loved ones.
 These I found to be very sentimental, whereas the hair-work (large pieces of hair sculpture in the shape of flower arrangements mounted and displayed in front parlors) I found a bit grotesque.
One representation I found unique was a piece with human hair buttonhole-stitched around the silhouette of someone who had passed on. 
Schoolgirls produced a great many silk-work embroidered pieces - often stitched over a water-colored background that was painted by an itinerant painter and then mounted in black and gold eglomisé mats and fine gold leaf frames.  
They were hung in parlors as proof of the young ladies' education and the families' fashionably proper attitude. There were also memorial paintings; one that caught my attention was of a house with no roof, depicting the end of the family. The Pennsylvania Germans elaborately painted Fraktur birth and death certificates and other family registers.   These beautifully painted and lettered certificates have been handed down in families for generations.
The mourning scene was not naïve, not frivolous, not morbid. It began as a sophisticated expression of death in the ornamental style of the late eighteenth century. Memorial Samplers really came into popularity with the death of George Washington in December of 1799. 
Greek Revival influence from pottery and engravings is found on the memorial samplers that become the fashion, featuring the willow and cypress trees predominantly. Julie and I had the opportunity to attend a symposium at Colonial Williamsburg in 2007 where we enjoyed many lectures and an exhibit entitled "Remember Me When This you See": Embroidered and Painted Arts of the New Republic.  

Some of the other symbols used on memorial samplers and embroideries that were discussed in the Williamsburg symposium are:
Gardens: Eden, resurrection

Tree: life, knowledge, death
Evergreen: Eternal life
Weeping Willow: Streams of tears, resurrection
White: Color of hope, Christian color of purity
Urn: The deceased
Church: The coming of the Holy Father
Eagle: Flying in the sky, all-seeing eye of god

Garden iconography is elaborate and complex at this time and you can see so much of it reflected in the romantic depictions of the memorial samplers.  A strong biblical influence is also seen in these areas.
The stitches predominantly used on the mourning embroideries were:

Seed or dot; long and short; stem; laid; couching; outline; satin; fly or Y; French knot; and loose S or loop. Also chenille and broad stitches - sweeping couched lines that covered masses of ground easily.  Most of the mourning embroideries were done under the instruction of a teacher. Sometimes an art teacher was paid extra to draw an embroidery design for a student, and as mentioned above, sometimes an itinerant painter painted areas of the background, such a sky and water for the mourning embroidery. Sometimes faces on the figures were painted on paper and attached to the embroidery. These were not the first embroideries of a young hand, but many times a final piece to show what accomplishments had been achieved and were placed in the parlor, a place of honor.

It is interesting to read about the culture at this time and the other traditions regarding mourning properly: draping the home with black crepe and wearing the proper attire for the proper amount of time - honoring the memory of a loved one properly.  In some cases, this extended to having servants spread straw on the cobbled streets outside a home in town, so as not to disturb the mourning family with noisy hoof-beats as carriages passed.

I have been thinking of what I want to include on a memorial sampler for Adam's mother. She doesn't know I have this plan in mind and I know it will take me longer than I would like to create and stitch it. But the length of time does not matter, it is what is put into the sampler that does. I want it to be representative of Adam and his family, so I will include some things that were important to him to personalize the symbolism in it. I will include things from his heritage and of course dates and initials; he loved his big trucks and his last was a Jeep Rubicon, so there will be a jeep in the proper color; the pretty kitty, who would keep him company during those long hours of silent pain, waiting for a good day to arrive.  I have photos so that I can hopefully capture his kitty's coloring and make it personal to him in this way as well. I have also found that the cat symbolizes the guardian of the gate of the other world in Scottish symbolism, 
 so this is fits well; his garden that the family has planted in his memory, so we can continue to enjoy time with Adam; possibly Mount Rainier, it held special meaning for him. There will be some traditional symbols: the cross for his religious beliefs that kept him strong; the heart, or double heart that was used in Scottish symbolism for his family's love for him.  
His father's heritage is British, Cherokee, Scottish and Slovenian. His mother is Chinese. So I have searched for symbols and their meanings in those heritages that will fit into the sampler and serve as special meaning.  Here is some of what might be included.  Cherokee: Cedar Tree, symbolized by the colors red and white - once carried the honored dead; the owl was also a symbol of death and an important symbol because it did not fall asleep during the seven days of creation; the color red is important throughout Adam's heritage - Cherokee, Chinese, Scotch, Slovenian and British, so red will surely be included.  Slovenian: Red Carnation is the national flower; the honeybee is also important. With his garden these will work well. British: the Red Rose is the national flower; and the crown for royalty. Chinese: I will include the boar, which is his Chinese zodiac sign for 1983 - honest and frank and has a strong heart; I think also there will be a Chinese character, but I haven't decided which one yet. So you can see there is a lot to fit together into the puzzle of a sampler for my nephew's memorial. It may be awhile, but hopefully I will have something to share on the blog in a few months of what this has become through the threads from my heart.

There, again, is so much that I have not shared here regarding this area of needlework and so many resources in the many books on the shelves, that I have not listed. I have tried to list some that you might not be aware of here.  I hope this will give you a taste of another area of embroidery that you will seek more information about and one day you may decide to "Honor the Memory" of someone you have loved and lost as well.

Bibliography and sites with information to further your interest in memorial samplers and the arts:

Mourning Becomes America: Mourning Art in the New Nation
An exhibition and catalogue researched and prepared by Anita Schorsch

Girlhood Embroidery: American samplers & pictorial needlework  1650 - 1850  by Betty Ring

Stories in Stone A Field Guide To Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography by Douglas Keister - Many of these same motifs are used in embroidery. It has a great list of symbolism and photos of headstone artwork.

A Spiderweb for Luck: Symbols & Motifs Used in Crazy Quilting by Dee Stark - Many of the same motifs are used in embroidery as well as in crazy quilt and this also gives some historical information on symbolism and shows some embroidered examples.

Epitaphs To Remember, Remarkable Inscriptions from New England Gravestones by Janet Greene  - Good verses to use on embroideries and memorial samplers with an historic feel - also some to chuckle at.

Personal notes taken from the Colonial Williamsburg symposium: "Remember Me When This you See": Embroidered and Painted Arts of the New Republic.

From Amy Finkel Samplings website:

"The death of George Washington in December of 1799 sparked a national vogue for public mourning that endured for decades. In keeping with this, young ladies attending schools, academies and seminaries worked stylish silk embroidered and watercolored pictures dedicated to departed family members. After they were framed with black and gold eglomisé mats and fine gold leaf frames, they were hung in parlours as proof of the young ladies' education and the families' fashionably proper attitude."
Many examples of mourning samplers and on mourning needlework samplers.  Also a section on symbolism
Mourning art symbols on headstones
a couple of samplers pictured on site


Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Queen Imprisoned

You know this story - a Queen imprisoned by the current government because she is a threat to their claim of authority.  Many of her people band together to help her regain her rightful place as the legitimate sovereign.  She is allowed to live in a stately home with her ladies-in-waiting, but is imprisoned, make no mistake!  With much time on her hands, and knowing herself to be the rightful ruler of this land, she undertakes to produce a lasting legacy - through her embroidery.  She and her ladies begin a large project...  But wait - this is not England in 1568, and it is not Mary Queen of Scots!  

Queen Lili'uokalani of Hawaii is the person who was imprisoned, by none other than the United States government, as they prepared to take the Hawaiian Islands as a US holding!  The year is 1895, and Lydia Lili'uokalani, after a rushed trial held in her own throne room, 
is sentenced to five years of hard labor!  This sentence was quickly amended to house arrest and she was held in one room of her home - Iolani Palace.
While detained, she and her companions began the project - a crazy quilt!  
The times were very Victorian, and Hawaiian  rulers had long been friends of Queen Victoria.  She was godmother to the little boy who would have been King Kamehameha V if he had lived.  The family had an affection for the Queen of England, and their homes were decorated in a way that would be familiar to any Victorian person of means.  
These two rooms are in Queen Emma's Summer Palace - a relatively modest vacation home for King Kamehameha IV and his beautiful wife, Emma.
The crazy quilt is finely embroidered and embellished.  In the center square, are the words: "Imprisoned at Iolani Palace ... We began the quilt here ..."  
Squares are made from scraps of clothing and ribbon that  belonged to Queen Lili'uokalani - the quilt is at once Victorian and distinctly Hawaiian - a piece of history now on view at Iolani Palace, in the very room in which it was made.

The grand hall of Iolani Palace above and the dining room below.
It was my pleasure and honor to see this quilt on my recent vacation to Honolulu.  As a rule, I like to find whatever needlework there is to see in museums wherever I go, but  I never thought I'd find a crazy quilt in Hawaii!  It's beautiful, and its sad legacy is extremely poignant. If you get a chance - please do go to see it.  Because photographs are not allowed in the palace, we have to make do with postcard views, but in general, postcard photography is better than mine anyway!
I will continue to tell about my travels in another post later on - there was one other major piece of textile history which was fascinating, and for which I was allowed to take photographs!


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Miss Pandora's Debut

The Mesdames Buck and deVries-Wong courteously invite you to join with us in an undertaking most fanciful.  We will venture into the past to investigate the everyday life of a needlework teacher and spinster lady in America during the beginnings of our country!  While Miss Pandora Boxworth is completely fictional, we will endeavor to portray early America and the life of the schoolmistress and sewing instructor as realistically as possible.  We had a lot of fun imagining Pandora's situation in life and work, and hope you will enjoy reading about her!

Her story will appear, from time to time on the blog - interspersed with our own stories and studies in the sampler world.   Today is your first installment....

Oh my!  We have just come upon the most amazing discovery!  We are always wandering into antique (and "junque") stores, looking for treasures.  We've found quite a few, of course, but none as exciting as this one!  In an old writing box, very much like this one, 
we have found the private letters and journal of a lady who lived in America a long time ago - in fact, she was there when we became the United States of America!  Through her letters and journal-entries, we have discovered just what she was thinking of and the life she lived during those historic times!  (yes, we'll share them with you!)  

Miss Pandora Boxworth arrived in Boston in November, 1763, having sailed from Glasgow on the Diligence, helmed by Captain Charles Robison.  It was a rough journey, but Dora (for that is what her friends called her) was an adventurous soul who looked forward to her life in America as the wife of a ship's captain!  Dora was engaged to a young man who had just been given his first ship to command - and she was very excited to meet him in Boston, where they were to be married that very day!  Unfortunately, his full name is lost to time, but we have the one letter that Dora must have held very dear to her heart on that April day, and perhaps the rest of the days of her life!  It was carefully preserved in a place of honor in a secret compartment in the box!

Here is the letter:  (if you can't read the letter easily, click on the picture to enlarge it). 

And yet - all evidence from the journal and other letters, indicate that Pandora Boxworth remained single all the days of her life!  What could have happened to James?  And why was Pandora reduced to purchasing the following advertisement in the Boston newspapers early in 1764?

(if you can't read the advertisement easily, click on the picture to enlarge it).
 I wonder how many students she had?  And what happened to James?

I guess we'll have to read on....

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Day!

Can you believe that May is here? Where did April go? I know it came; in fact it brought with it every manner of weather imaginable here.  Julie and I have been busy with so many things, the on line show has come and gone and we are working on several special orders for some really fun events throughout the country.  If you've been wondering why we haven't been posting very much recently, this is why.

May Day was yesterday - and I thought I would share some May Day lore with you and also give you some sites you might enjoy to learn more about the meanings of flowers and May Day customs. As we look at historic needlework samplers we try to imagine what the stitcher was thinking, as she put each motif in place. Did she choose these motifs because they had special meaning to her, things she saw in her day-to-day life? Did she choose certain flowers and motifs to tell a story through the meanings associated with them? If it was from the Victorian times, a sampler may very well carry more meaning in its bouquets of stitched flowers then the lovely picture it creates for our eyes. Today I think we enjoy the romance and tradition from times past that is lost in our fast-paced world.

The language of flowers reaches back many centuries into the Chinese dynasties, Selam, the Oriental Language of Flowers 
and into the secret language found in the Turkish harems.  
But it was Queen Victoria who truly brought the language of flowers to the forefront.  Now the actual meaning of each flower varies a bit by the source you choose to use, but it's still a bit of fun to think of what you might say to someone with a special bouquet. What would your favorite flora say about you?

My very favorite flower is the daffodil, and this year I had such a showing of them. So chivalry would be a part of my mix. 
Then I think of pansy with its little monkey face as my grandmother use to say: merriment.   
Hydrangea: thank you for understanding. 
Trillium: modest beauty. 
Snowball: thoughts of heaven.
Bleeding heart: a symbol of undying love. 
Primrose: I can't live without you.  
There are so many flowers I enjoy the list could go on and on.  As you look at some of the sites we have shared  below (and there are many more), you can put together your message in flowers for someone you care about or maybe send a message not so cheerful to someone who has hurt you as well!

May Day used to have many customs - some that have been lost through time and some changed to fit into our lives today. I do remember sneaking around early on May 1st, to hang the paper cones I had made filled with dandelions and a few flowers snatched from my grandmother's garden or my mother's flowerbeds on neighbors' doors, then ringing the doorbell and running to hide. You had to see the surprise, "oh my" as they saw this damp display hanging on their door knob. But I never knew I should be washing my face in the morning dew on May Day to restore beauty and help you find the man of your dreams....there are several beliefs to this custom.
Of course there are the Maypole celebrations 
 and May Day Queens, but also there are some beliefs that are not as happy:
"Those who bath in May, will soon be laid in Clay"
"Wash a blanket in May, wash a dear one away"
"Marry in May and you'll rue the day"

So what did your May Day bring? Did you sneak around your neighborhood hanging cones of flowers on their doors to bring a smile to their faces and let them know that summer is truly on its way?

Language of Flowers and May Day Customs Links found on the Internet that I enjoyed, but there are many, many more!
May Day Poem
Round the maypole - round and round
Men and maids and children bound
Show'ring as they halt between
Honours on their May Day Queen.

A May Day Basket for you to make!

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