Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bucks, Deer, Hart, Stag

We have always had a special place in our hearts for the deer we find on  needlework.  Whether it be the cross eyed seated deer, the one with the zigzag antlers, 

or our latest favorite the Norfolk deer with its foot on the little mounds or hillocks, usually in pairs facing each other. 

As we were working on Imitation and Improvement, we were fascinated with the way the girls  placed elements that they would see in their everyday lives on their samplers, like the deer on the little hillocks which abound in Norfolk.  Here is a little excerpt from the book:

"Although not unique to Norfolk Samplers, the almost ubiquitous climbing deer and pine tree-topped mounds within the distinctive Norfolk style motif of linked octagon frames resonated with the landscape features of the surrounding countryside. Artificial mounds (mounts) had been a feature of English garden design since the Elizabethan period. In 1616 a garden mount was installed to view the newly re-designed gardens at Blicking Hall between Norwich and Cromer, a belvedere in the flat Norfolk terrain.   In the 1740s a formal view to and from the house at Holkham, near Wells, was created and complemented by a series of tree-planted flanking mounds. The Wells Directory of 1795 describes another nearby topographic phenomena 'On the sea-side hereabouts are many little hills cast up, supposed to contain the bones of the Saxons and Danes, who fell in some neighbouring field of battle.' The mounds and Holkham’s herd of 1500 fallow deer lend a topical relevance to the characteristic deer and mound composition of the Norfolk samplers.'

We also enjoy exploring the symbolism from various sources that would have been in vogue during various periods of history from which needle workers might have pulled ideas and reasons to include them on their samplers.

It’s hard to know, did the girls or their teachers plan the motifs that we find on the historic samplers to carry certain meanings or was it purely an accident?  I like to see if the meanings of the symbols between various countries are similar?  What about different types of artwork that symbolism is used in, did the meanings carryout the same? So many symbols come to us from biblical sources and stories found in the bible.

Most the time, for Julie’s sake, we call them “Bucks”.  Do you think of them as Bucks, Deer, Hart, or Stags?  There are various meanings depending on how you view them in various aspects of history.

Below I will share some of the symbolism I have found in various sources and we will also share some images from our collection of various “Bucks” we have and enjoy.  Which is your favorite? 

For Julie, it’s that cross-eyed lazy Buck!


The Hart is a symbol of the Wisdom of God: gentleness; pride and manliness; solitude and purity; Christ as the love of God on Earth; an image of Christ; the adversary of Satan.  The medieval bestiaries gave it the power to suck snakes from their holes.  The hart is depicted being hunted, at rest, running and sometimes chained to the tree of life.  The hart is the male European red deer over five years old which has large antlers.  The female is called a hind and lacks antlers.  In North America, this species is called the elk.

Sampler Motifs and Symbolism by Patricia Andrle and Lesley Rudnicki says the stag is a symbol of Christ vanquishing evil; faithfulness; charity. It was thought to be the enemy of the dragon and could kill one by spewing water on it.

Embroidery Motifs from Old Dutch samplers by Albarta Meulenbelt-Nieuwburg asserts that the hart symbolizes both gentleness and pride.  The stag with spreading antlers is the symbol of the hunt, and with a shining cross between its antlers I is the attribute of St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunters to whom, according to legend, such a stag appeared while he was out hunting.

Chinese Symbolism: Wealth and Achievement  The University of Indianapolis has a great article on symbolism:

An Anglo-Saxon royal scepter found at the Sutton Hoo burial site in England features a depiction of an upright, antlered stag. In the Old English language poem Beowulf, much of the first portion of the story focuses on events surrounding a great mead hall called Heorot, meaning "Hall of the Hart.

Greek: In Greek mythology, the deer is particularly associated with Artemis in her role as virginal huntress. Actaeon, after witnessing the nude figure of Artemis bathing in a pool, was transformed by Artemis into a stag that his own hounds tore to pieces. Callimachus, in his archly knowledgeable "Hymn III to Artemis", mentions the deer that drew the chariot of Artemis:
"in golden armor and belt, you yoked a golden chariot, bridled deer in gold".

The Scythians had some reverence for the stag, which is one of the most common motifs in their artwork, especially at funeral sites. The swift animal was believed to speed the spirits of the dead on their way, which perhaps explains the curious antlered headdresses found on horses buried at Pazyryk.


The Insular Celts held deer as supernatural animals, "fairy cattle" that were herded and milked by a localized and benevolent fairy giantess (a bean sìdhe) in each district, who could shift shape to that of a red deer; in the West Highlands, she selected the individual deer that would be slain in the next day's hunt.

Deer Spirit Symbols:
Gentleness, Kindness, Compassion, Innocence, Motherhood, Grace, Femininity, Swiftness, Peace, Subtlety, Adventure, Psychic Power, Awareness, Renewal, Acceptance, Connection to Spirit

Stag Spirit Symbols:
- Masculinity, Regeneration, Guidance, Gentleness, Healing, Connection to the Earth and the Forest, Alertness, Psychic Power, Pride, Independence, Purification, Strength, Nobility

Deer totems and their antlers bring the message and meaning of higher connection and awareness. Antlers act as spiritual antennae, and if an antlered deer or stag has entered your life pay attention to inner thoughts and perceptions. Take a moment to stop and listen to your inner voice - it is likely that an important message is going to come to you.

The deer spirit and totem guides us to get more in tune with our feminine energies. If you’ve seen a deer person consider the medicine of gentleness, grace, and compassion. When deer spirits show up in your life it is time embrace the kindness.

Deer in Dreams:
In Dreamtime, deer signifies a gentle, natural beauty and grace. The gifts of deer bring us quick and powerful bursts of high energy. The key is to see life as play.

Cultural Symbolism:
To Native Americans, deer and all forked-horned animals symbolized dangerous psychic and spiritual powers that had a double nature. By observing this creature, humans learned to hide when being hunted.

The deer or stag was also used greatly in Heraldry.

An Introduction to Heraldry by Stefan Oliver
The Latin name for deer, ‘cervi’, comes from the Greek ‘ceraton’, horns. Stags are the enemies of serpents: as soon as they feel the symptoms of illness, they entice snakes out of their holes with the breath of their noses, and overcoming their harmful poison, feed on them and are cured. The are entranced by the whistling of a pan-pipe; they can hear anything with pricked ears, but nothing if they lay their ears back.

The nature of deer is like that of members of Holy Church who leave this homeland (that is, the world) because they prefer the new pastures of heaven, and support each other on the way; those who are more perfect help their lesser brethren through their example and good works.  If they find a place of sin, they spring over it at once, and if the devil enters their body after they have committed a sin, they hasten to Christ, the spring of truth, and confess, drinking in his commandments, and are renewed, laying aside their old guilt.

The word ‘tragelaphus’ comes from the Greek; although they are of the same kind as stags, they have hairy forequarters like he-goats, and luxuriant beards on their chins.  They are only found near the River Phasis on the Black Sea.  The bride says of the bridegroom in the Song of Songs; ‘My beloved is like a roe, or a young hart’ (2;9), Christ is therefore like a roe in His humility, when He was made flesh, and like a fawn born of deer, that is of the patriarchs, from whom He was descended in the flesh, in the variety of His virtues and in His innocence.

Bestiary by Richard Barber
Psalm 42:1 reads, “As the hart (deer) panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God” Thus the deer, or hart, symbolizes piety and religious aspiration.  The deer, and particularly, the stag, symbolizes solitude and contemplation because of the belief that it leads a primarily solitary life.  Because of the form of the stag’s antlers, they are often said to represent the Tree of Life. 

The Legend of St. Eustace
In the cemetery and in Christian religious works the stag is usually portrayed with a cross attached to its antlers.  This refers to the tale of St. Eustace who supposedly lived in the second century. You can find this story in several sources. Therefore, a stag with a crucifix in its antlers symbolizes piety and devotion. The stag with the crucifix is also a symbol of St. Hughbert. There is no documentation that either of the saints ever existed.

Stories in Stone, A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography, Written and photographed by Douglas Keister

Deer: Universally benevolent symbol associated with dawn, light, purity, regeneration, creativity and magic.

Stag: Solar emblem of fertility, the antlers symbolize the tree of life, the sun’s rays, longevity and rebirth. Antlers have been used as headdresses for dieties; on the Celtic antlered god Cerunnus they represented spring and fecundity.

Signs and Symbols: Identification and analysis of the visual vocabulary that formulates our thoughts and dictates our reactions to the world around us. By Mark O’Connell and Raje Airey

Imitation and Improvement: The Norfolk Sampler Tradition
by Joanne Martin Lukacher

This new publication is full of lovely deer that you will enjoy as well as many other beautiful motifs found typically on the Norfolk Samplers.  If you haven’t purchased your copy yet, you may want to proceed to our web site or one of the retailers currently carrying this edition and add it to your needlework library.  Suggested retail is $92.95.  If you are in a guild and make a group purchase of 8 or more copies, we are still offering the special guild price of 20% off the cover price plus shipping. Which will bring the price down to $74.36 plus shipping.  For guild purchases, just email us at and we will figure the cost of shipping and total the order for you.

Joanne is also available for talks and book signings and we would be happy to put you in touch with her so that you can schedule this for your group or shop.

We have some special products designed from the sampler we created in the style of the Norfolk sampler which you receive the chart for as well in the book.  You can find these products at our web site as well. Keep watching as we will be adding new products very soon. 

List of shops carrying the book: 

In the US:
3 Stitches in Spring, TX
Acorns and Threads in Portland, OR
Attic Needlework in Mesa, AZ
Cecilia's Samplers in Branson, MO
The Mad Samplar in Yadkinville, NC
Needle in a Haystack in Alameda, CA
The Scarlet Letter in Sullivan, WI
Shepherd's Bush in Ogden, UT
The Silver Needle in Tulsa, OK
Stitcher's Stash in Brookville, PA

In Canada:
Amy Mitten Designs
Traditional Stitches

In the UK:
The Sampler Guild

In Australia:
Apple Gallery

On Sunday, March 24th, Joanne Martin Lukacher will be speaking at the Marshall House in Vancouver, WA.  Stop by if you are in the area, but do please rsvp to  The event is free, but since seating is limited, a reservation is definitely required.

Joanne will also be speaking at the first ever Penn Dry Goods Market Show and Sale in Pennsylvania!  May 17 and 18th, this wonderful event is coming to the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center!  Take a look at their lineup on the Schwenkfelder website.  We'll be there and would love to see you!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Imitation and Improvement: The Norfolk Sampler Tradition

In the city of Norwich, Norfolk, almost 200 years ago, twelve-year-old Anna Mallet sat and stitched her sampler.  After several rows of alphabets and a bible verse, she stitched some motifs she'd seen on other samplers from the area:  a set of three linked octagons with her name and the date, separating a pair of facing deer on small hillocks.  Under the octagons, she stitched some pine trees.  These are among the last of the of clearly "Norfolk Tradition" motifs that were stitched by little girls in this area.  Many years later, this sampler has come to live with Julie, and she feels very honored to have "her".

Over a period of about 100 years, the girls in Norwich and the surrounding English countryside, developed a stylized pattern for samplers that is truly unique and very beautiful.  Between 1790 and 1820, the classic Norfolk style flourished and there are many wonderful samplers showing this gorgeous sampler tradition.
Kezia Hawkes, English, born Norwich 1794
Sampler (“Virtue's the brightest Gem a Maid can wear…”), 1803
Silk threads on wool ground
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
Gift of Mrs. James W. Packard (Elizabeth Gillmer, class of 1894), 1960.9.51
Conservation treatment of this sampler was made possible by a grant from the Stockman Family Foundation.

A classic Norfolk sampler is easy to spot - one of the main components is the diamond-shaped cartouche made up of saw-tooth lines that takes up the central part of the sampler - it's very large, expanding from top to bottom and side to side.  Inside the cartouche you will find rows of alphabets separated by decorative bands in the top third.  The center is filled with a bible verse - the most common being:

            Next Unto God dear Parents I Address
            My self to you in humble Thankfulness
            For all your Care and Charge on me Bestow’d
            The means of Learning unto me Allow’d
            Go on I Pray and let me still Pursue
            Those golden Arts the Vulgar never Knew

The bottom third has a set of linked octagons with facing deer (sometimes dogs or lions) on hillocks and pine trees.  The name of the stitcher and the date is often in one these octagons, or just below it. 
Elizabeth Larter, English, born Norwich 1778
Sampler (“Next unto God…), 1792
Silk threads on 48 count wool ground
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY
Transfer from Vassar College Libraries, Special Collections, Martha Clawson Reed Collection, 1997.7.74
Conservation treatment of this sampler was made possible by a grant from the Stockman Family Foundation.

The diamond cartouche may or may not have side panels (some call them "ears").  In the side panels you will find a stylized urn of flowers.  All of this is done in counted cross stitch, with perhaps a very little satin stitch in a dividing band.

None of this prepares you for the splendor of the floral borders.  In the four corners left by the diamond design, you find free-embroidered bouquets of flowers in grand disarray!  The sheer beauty of these flowers, emanating sometimes from a cornucopia and sometimes from a satin-stitched bow, is breathtaking and the skill of these little girls is evident!

 Image courtesy of M. Finkel & Daughter

Joanne Martin Lukacher first noticed this lovely set of design elements when she curated a sampler exhibit for Vassar College some years ago.  Since then, she has found others with the same elements.  She became intrigued, and ten years of research followed.  Finally, she felt she had traced the designs from their origins and understood why these samplers were unique to a very small geographic area and a short era in history.  Her findings are presented in a new book:  Imitation and Improvement: The Norfolk Sampler Tradition. 

In the Company of Friends are very proud to have been  able to publish this significant scholarly work.  Over 100 girls and their samplers are featured with beautiful color photographs.  Each girl was researched for her genealogy and  design influences are discussed at length.   This is a book you will find yourself reading like a story, as well as coming back to it again and again for information.  Over 350 pages long, this is a beautiful addition to any needlework library.

The book is $92.95 plus shipping and handling, which varies depending on where the recipient is.  For international orders, we can refer you to a few stores/online resources where you can order and save a bit on the postage:

In Canada, you can order from Amy Mitten Designs, The Essamplaire, or Traditional Stitches.  In England, The Sampler Guild is expecting their books to arrive soon and can begin shipping.  We will keep you apprised of other shops in other countries as they "come aboard".  

Check out the sample pages on our website:  Imitation and Improvement.

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