Thursday, November 25, 2010

Litchfield, Waterbury and Glastonbury, Oh My!

Today our journey began in Litchfield, CT with a visit to the Litchfield Historical Society. Our journey once again took us through beautiful fall scenes one would imagine from postcards.  The historic town of Litchfield itself is quite charming and arriving early we were enticed by several of the shop windows. I didn't think we would get Julie out of the unique clothing shop we entered. If there had been more time in our schedule I think we would all have spent a great deal more time in several of the shops along this street. We peeked into a couple of antique shops, the kitchen shop, and the fabric and trim shop found us oohing and aahing and buying some lovely silks for finishing some of our small needlework pieces.   I think Beth is still kicking herself for not purchasing a small silk embroidery she spotted in one of the shops! 

We entered the Historical Society with a large group of children there for a school field trip. It is wonderful to see the schools exposing the children to hands-on museum activities. I had a hard time not following them, to see what their day held. In one of their rooms off the exhibit area, they had pulled out several of the needlework pieces from their collection for us to examine.  The Litchfield Female Academy was known for their beautiful silk embroideries, and it was nice to get our noses up close and personal to see the intricate stitches so fine in the beautiful varieties of silk threads they had to use.  We saw many beautiful uses of chenille threads that were couched knotted and laid, and gave such dimension to the pieces.   Painted features enhanced these pieces, and some had penciled-in details that almost looked like stitching itself.

The Radcliffe family sampler had this verse that I enjoyed.
What tho the canvas charm the eye
 Soon must these colours fade and die
But to the immortal mind must live 
And the dread wreck of time survive

Another verse we enjoyed was found on Caroline E. Collins needlework.
The flowers of the field that quickly fade away, 
May well to us instruction yield who die as soon as they. 

Then let us think on death, 
Though we are young and gay,
For God who gave our life and breath,
Can take them soon away.

The book from an exhibit of their needlework is still available in their gift shop if you do not own it. To Ornament Their Minds: Sarah Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy 1792-1833.  Many of the photos in this edition are in black and white, so it was so nice to see them in all their beauty.  

Although I didn't get a chance to see any of their quilt collection, I did find a book in their shop as well, Quilts and Quiltmakers Covering Connecticut. For those of you who play on both sides of the needle!

We finished our time in Litchfield with lunch at a lovely restaurant called @ the Corner. The food was so delicious and there were some unique offerings.  We heard there is a lovely bed and breakfast in town offering dinner options as well, but no time to investigate this. We were on to Mattatuck Museum!

As we mentioned in an earlier blog, the Mattatuck Museum has a wonderful website that you can interact with and see not only their collection, but many of the pieces from other Connecticut area museums and historical societies that loaned pieces for a past exhibit. You go to their website, then to collections and then to Sampler Data Base to locate these. They have done a nice job, giving you close ups to view as well and information, when they have it, about the pieces.   Again, there isn't anything better than seeing them in person to really see the details of the stitches and the colors, but when you live such distances as we do and want to study historical pieces, this is a wonderful tool to have and I know it is much appreciated by the needlework community to have the work that was put into making this possible done by them.  So do say thank you when you pass through their site!

Besides the sampler collection, this museum offers some nice hands-on opportunities for you to learn about the local area, the mills that were in the area and the industries they housed - the brass industry for one, which led to making buttons as well as other notions in brass.  It was hard for them to keep up with outside brass productions, however, and this died away eventually. You cannot believe the number and varied styles of buttons they have accumulated. If you had peeked at us that afternoon, you would also have found us making our own paper buttons on one of their children's exhibits.

One verse we enjoyed was
Shall letters made with needle and thread
And characters marked with green and red
Raise the ambition of little Miss
All that is done with neatness and taste
Honour shall forever on it rest.

And another stated
Contentment is the Best Fortune

We finished our visit and enjoyed a refreshing beverage in the center town park before heading back to hit the only needlework shop we had found for the area which was open late tonight! 

Thistle Needleworks, in Glastonbury, CT.  It's a large shop with both counted thread and needlepoint materials. They offer framing and classes as well. So of course it took some time to go through their offerings and make our purchases! 

We had really worked up an appetite by this time, so we headed out the door and to the restaurant right there in the parking lot, Piatti, where we filled our tummies and got back on the road for the quick journey back to the hotel. Another day filled with beautiful details of needlework to truly ornament our minds! 

We wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving no matter where you may live.  We have so much to be grateful for, and as we count our blessings, we count the many friends we have made through the internet and our conversations here.

Becky and Julie

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sampler Auctions

This sampler is NOT one of those auctioned - it is "just for pretty".

We see notices for sampler auctions all the time and sometimes wonder where the samplers come from.  This past week or so, a drama has played out that brings those thoughts to the forefront. Last Saturday, November 20th, the Burlington County Historical Society auctioned off 29 samplers from their collection, despite vigorous protestations from the sampler community.  The stated purpose for the sale changed from wanting to install "interactive" displays to attract children and families to "new acquisitions" when it was pointed out that it was actually against museum policy and the ethics standards the museum community has set for itself to sell off collections for anything other than to purchase new items for the collections.

That some of these samplers had been bequeathed or donated to the museum means that these kinds of donations may not be so forthcoming in the future.  The samplers sold were New Jersey samplers and completely within the stated mandate of the historical society.

I know everyone who has been following this story is saddened to see the samplers sold in this manner.  

An interesting addendum to this story is that one of the samplers from their collection - an extremely important New Jersey sampler, which was apparently not slated for the auction block, was stolen during the preparations for the sale.  As of yet, no word has been received as to the outcome of the investigation, but it has definitely been reported to the police as a theft.

Another major auction of samplers will take place this weekend - Friday, November 26th, when Sue and Richard Studebaker's sampler collection will be auctioned.  You can see the catalog here.

Sue Studebaker is the author of  "Ohio is My Dwelling Place" and "Ohio Samplers — Schoolgirl Embroideries 1803–1850", a catalog of an exhibition at the Warren County Historical Society, which she guest curated.  She pioneered the research of Ohio samplers and her sudden death in January of 2008 is still felt by those of us who were lucky enough to have known her.  We counted her as a friend and mentor and she is missed every day.  

Seeing the collection that Sue and Richard lovingly compiled in Garth's catalog is a bittersweet experience.  

On a MUCH happier note, the Sampler Survey undertaken by the Colonial Dames of America has born fruit!  They have published their results online in a searchable database - a great boon to sampler enthusiasts and researchers.  You can see the results here.

For any who don't know about the Sampler Survey, the Colonial Dames have been endeavoring to update the seminal work done by Bolton and Coe in their "American Samplers" published by the Colonial Dames in 1921.  Ideally, this database would include every sampler extant in the United States, having broadened their scope from the original aim to locate each of the 2500 samplers listed in the first publication.  Realistically, of course, they have not been able to come close to that, but they have received information on approximately 1200, most of them American and about half of them have photographs accompanying them.

If you have, or know of samplers that should be listed in the survey, please go the Sampler Survey site and fill in the form.

Later this week, we'll continue our review of the Connecticut trip.  For now, Becky and I are snowed in and hoping to stay warm by the fire with hot chocolate and our stitching!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Prudence and the Noiseless Typewriter

On the first day of our Connecticut trip, we had set ourselves two appointments - one at the Middlesex County Historical Society, which is in Middletown, Ct., and another at the Prudence Crandall House.  Barbara, Beth, Becky and I met Lynne there, and entered the pretty old house which houses the collections and exhibits.  Debby Shapiro, the Executive Director, met us at the door and gave us a very interesting history of the area. It is always nice to put the area into context and know more about the kind of lives of the girls who created the needlework...what events shaped their lives and their families' livelihoods.

Middletown was settled in 1650.  It was a shipping town - they built ships, made rope,  and shipped goods along the coast into the West Indies and bringing back sugar, tobacco and a few slaves. Later there were rum importers and the Canton trade. In the 1770's there were pewter makers and lead mines in the area at this time as well. In 1803 the embargo on shipping to and from Europe killed the shipping industry here and people began moving out.

Russell Manufacturing made elastic webbing for suspenders and started the industrial revolution here.  Other items made in the area were pistols, swords and rifles, Savage firearms, the Noiseless Typewriter was invented here, as were dress shields and the Goodyear Rubber Co. made goulashes. This is just a brief glimpse at some of the historical facts for the area. 

The Historical Society is headquartered at General Mansfield House, one of the few residential structures still standing on Middletown's Main Street . Once the home of General Joseph K.F. Mansfield, a Civil War hero who died at the battle of Antietam in 1862, the Federal brick mansion has been the home of the Historical Society since 1959. 

Then it was on to the samplers and various needlework pieces Debby had pulled for our viewing. We so enjoyed the pieces and gleaning what we could from them as far as materials used, stitches used, the verses that I so enjoy and try to capture when we have the opportunity to see the historical pieces. We were lucky enough to be allowed to photograph many of the pieces in many of the collections we saw on this trip. The permission was given for our study purposes and we remind you as you view a few that we will share on the blog, that the images are owned by the organizations and that they are not to be used in any way from our blog except for your visual enjoyment here without your receiving individual permission from each organization. 

One sampler was the Orphan's Home. It was noted that this sampler was wrought by Emma A Harrington at the Orphans Home kept for many years by Mrs. Abigail Lucas and her daughter Miss Julia Lucas at Long Hill in Middletown, Connecticut June the 12th 1855. Wool thread on a linen ground.

A verse I enjoyed from Margaret B. Hall Middletown, Connecticut July 12, 1844 aged 10 years.
The time flies fast away 
Like flowery springs the heart it cheers,
But has nothing to say.

(detail from a family register)

Harriet P Phelps aged 12 her sampler
Industry is commendable 
Life is short eternity is long

Another piece that caught our attention was a pincushion from 1806 that had been made at Miss Patten's Seminary in Hartford. It had a special basket that it sat in and a beautiful silk ruched ribbon edge.

You know how much Julie and I enjoy tea.  As our friends checked out the publications available from the Middlesex Historical Society they found a collection of historic and modern recipes for Afternoon Tea and Dessert. So of course we had to purchase these for our libraries as well.  We haven't had much time to really go through and enjoy the many recipes, but you do know that some of these will show up sooner or later at one of our special teas we will share with our friends and then we will have the opportunity to remember our fond time at the Middlesex Historical Society as we started the first day of this wonderful week of exploring Connecticut and it's needlework. 

Here is one recipe that caught my eye to start with:

Nussschnitte (Chocolate Potato Spice Cake) yes that is the spelling! 

2/3 cup butter
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, separated 
1/2 cup milk
1 cup cold mashed potatoes
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup bitter chocolate, grated
2 tsp. baking powder
2 cups flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

Cream together butter and sugar. Add egg yolks, milk, potato, spices, chocolate, and dry ingredients except nuts.  Add salt as needed and mix until smooth

In separate bowl, beat whites of eggs. Fold mixture into beaten whites of eggs. Add nuts.

Bake in 7x13- inch cake pan at 350 degrees for 35 minutes (or until it springs back at center)

When cool, frost with your favorite white frosting and dribble melted semi-seet chocolate on top.

This sounds like a great use for those leftover mashed potatoes at the holidays.

After enjoying a great lunch just down the street, where we found delicious soups, salads and more we headed to Canterbury Connecticut. Just the name gives you visions of the beauty there. We wound our way through the countryside with all the fall color lining the roads.  Our stop in Canterbury was at the Prudence Crandall home.

They have a wonderful publication that is available about this special lady in history's life. We all purchased it on our way out and of course it hasn't seen the light of day since returning home. I have such a pile of reading material that I have brought back with me from this trip and so much work waiting here, that it will be some time before I can enjoy it all. But we do want to give you a bit of a synopsis on our special trip and each of the places we visited. 

We were also made aware of a PBS movie that was made on the life of Prudence Crandall, I would suggest you all look for this and possibly it is available through your local library system as well to borrow. We saw a short version at the home before our tour began and enjoyed it very much.   The title of the DVD is "To All on Equal Terms - The Life and Legacy of Prudence Crandall" and it is available for purchase from the museum.

In 1832, Prudence Crandall (1803-1890) opened a private academy for the daughters of the white families in Canterbury.  After accepting a black woman, Sarah Harris, as a student at the Academy, Crandall decided to change the school into one exclusively for African-American women and girls.   Of course this was not a popular decision by the community and Prudence endured many acts of violence and harassment for this decision, which finally ended in the decision to close the school.  

You may have seen articles by Glee Krueger regarding the needlework of this Academy in previous years. One such entitled "A Canterbury Tale: Sarah Ann Major Harris and Prudence Crandall,"

"I never saw a heart wider open to all truth. She never stopped to ask from whence a thought came, but only, is it true."  Rev. Charles L McKesson at Prudence Eulogy  1890

"I am the last leaf upon the tree" Prudence Crandall 1881

Sarah Harris Fayeweather's Headstone:

Hers was a living example of the obedience to faith 
devotion to her children and a loving tender interest in all.

Prudence Crandall's needlework was a simple piece, but the story was an inspirational example of the strength of women. 

On our way out of Canterbury we stopped at a cemetery we had spotted on our way into town. Many of the beautiful motifs you see on headstones of earlier years relate so much to the motifs we see on needlework.  The old headstones with the beauty and patina that the years have given them are so enduring. We found a treasure trove of the beautiful angels gracing so many of the headstones here. At first glance we thought many were alike, but upon closer examination there were several different designs and some unique ones we had not seen before. 

Then there was a section of a family plot fenced off from the others and several were adorned with little lambs and we read the dates and names of the many children this family had lost. It still pulls at your heartstrings even when you don't know the families and many years have passed.  

So we followed the roads back into Hartford, happy after all we had seen on this first day of discovering Connecticut. We found ourselves hungry and ready for dinner and happened upon the Trumbull Kitchens in the middle of downtown Hartford.  The town pretty much closes up when the work day is done and people head out into the suburbs and surrounding areas, but this seemed to be a happening place and we soon learned why. The food was not only beautiful it was delicious! So we were satisfied and ready to head to bed at the close of our first day to rest up for what the next would hold.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ghouls Just Wanna Have Fun Connecticut Tour!

We had such a great time on our Connecticut trip!  Becky and I joined forces with two of our "ghoul friends" - Barbara and Beth - and spent seven days in Connecticut, visiting samplers and needlework at museums and historical societies all over the state!  On several occasions, we met up with Lynne Anderson of the Sampler Consortium, and we just had the best time!  Here are a few highlights - we will give you all the grisly details as we go along, but we came home with thousands of pictures to wade through, edit and cull, so it will be awhile before we can do much in-depth description!  Right now, we are busily putting the finishing touches on a big order for the Swan Sampler Guild, and don't want to stop production for the blog.  So here are a few "teasers"...

It was the week leading up to Halloween, so we definitely had a bit of "ghoulish laughter" during the trip.  After awhile, we started referring to ourselves as "The 4WW" which meant something different each time, it seemed - four Washington Women, four witchy women... whatever struck our funnybones!

Here's our itinerary and a few "slice of life" pictures...

4WW at the Prudence Crandall House

Wednesday, October 27th - Middlesex County Historical Society in the morning, and Prudence Crandall House in the afternoon.  At both places, we'd made appointments to see the needlework.  On the way "home" to Hartford, we stopped at a beautiful cemetery with some wonderful old tombstones.

Dinner was in Hartford at a wonderful restaurant the Trumbull Kitchen - and the food was so pretty I had to take a picture!  (Gasp!  I'm turning into one of those bloggers, aren't I?)

Thursday, October 28th - Morning at the Litchfield Historical Society (Litchfield Female Academy) where we'd arranged to see some of the schoolgirls' pieces.  In the afternoon, we headed to the Mattatuck Museum in Waterbury, where we had another appointment!  We found that all their samplers and many others from the area are available on their website to look at and study. They have the most amazing button museum on the their third floor, and then we wandered a little bit in the town.

Button detail

Friday, October 29th - In the morning, we headed to the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London.  We were a little bit early for our appointment, so we spent a little bit of time looking for acorns - we're going to make them into pincushions...

The grounds were beautiful!

In the afternoon, we headed to Old Lyme to see the amazing exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum - absolutely stunning!  Afterwards, we wandered the grounds delighting in their scarecrow exhibit!  Each scarecrow represented a different artist - it was such fun to try to guess which was which.  Here, Barbara shares a bench with Salvador Dolly.

That evening, we stopped in at the Penny Lane Pub, where Beth asked the bartenders to make her a "signature drink" for the bar she recently built in her home!  Here she is with the result - a Copper Penny!  John, who concocted the drink for her, is on the left!  

Saturday, October 30th - This is the day we planned the rest of the trip around - a one-day seminar at the Connecticut Historical Society in Hartford, held in conjunction with their exhibit .  There were several speakers, and we'll give a detailed accounting of their talks later on.  

The keynote speech was by Susan P. Schoelwer, describing the familial links between the makers of the samplers and other needlework in the exhibit.  She was fascinating, and you can see for yourself, as it's all documented in her book, "Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840"

One of the highlights for us was to hear Glee Krueger again.  She spoke of her personal collection, and it was such a delight to see her!

The room where the symposium was held had antique tavern signs all over the walls - so great to see these wonderful pieces of American folk art.

That evening, we headed off to the Mark Twain House for a ghost tour of the house.  Such fun!  And of course, Becky got into the spirit of things!

Old Sturbridge Village was next on our Agenda - all day Sunday, October 31st we toured this wonderful living museum!  Being Halloween, there were some special surprises for us.  This woman is holding the forerunner of our Jack O-Lantern - a carved turnip!  The tradition started in Ireland, according to this lady, and when Europeans came to America, they found the much larger pumpkins that are the familiar Jacks today!

Monday was our last day, and we were off to Mystic Seaport where we wandered through the historic village.  It was a bit nippy, but what a beautiful sunny day!  

Dinner, of course, was at Mystic Pizza!  

We had a wonderful time and can't wait for the next adventure!

Becky and Julie

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Tea with Prudence and Sarah, Sunday, November 7, 2010

Now that it's safe to allude to a "tea party" again, election day being behind us once more, we truly wish we were able to attend this one!  When we were in Connecticut last week, the Prudence Crandall House
was one of our favorite stops!  Prudence Crandall was a young woman who had the courage (some would say audacity) to open a school for black girls in Canterbury, CT.  in 1833.  During the 17 months her school was open, she was harassed, threatened, jailed, and finally attacked.  She was ultimately forced to close the school because it was no longer safe for her students to attend.  She was a trailblazer!  (Literally, since her critics set fire to the building that was her home and school).  

Miss Crandall was moved to open her school when, after admitting a young black woman to her female academy, all the parents of her white students removed their daughters.  That first black student was Sarah Harris, who went on to teach other black girls.  Unable to deny the right to education to any students who might wish to come to her, Prudence Crandall lived her principles.  

Next Sunday, those who can get to Canterbury, CT., can have tea with Prudence and Sarah - lucky!  We really envy you and would love to hear from any who attend.

The rest of our visit to Connecticut will be the subject of many blog entries (we took thousands of pictures!).  But we didn't want to wait on this one as the tea is next Sunday.  Do try to attend if you are at all able!

You must register to attend - contact information is on this page.

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