Polite and Useful Education: Pictorial Needlework Embroidery
Eight works ranging in date from 1706 to 1985 represent the highest achievement in female needlework art, being the culmination of a young girl’s training with the needle. They include such subjects as religious scenes, mourning memorials, depictions of buildings, and simply decorative designs. Six of the pictures were worked by young and adult women from Monmouth County.
Monmouth County’s proximity to the city centers of Philadelphia and New York meant easy access to high-quality teachers, a number of whom opened schools in and near Monmouth. The necessary materials such as imported silk threads, needles, and popular design sources such as prints and engravings could also be readily obtained. Large and complex needlework pieces, such as Catherine Schanck’s Balshazzar’s Feast, relied on the assistance of professional artists, who would sketch out the preliminary design on the ground fabric. Catherine’s linen panel clearly shows the original layout on its reverse.
Large needlework panels also represented a serious financial investment on the part of parents. In Elizabeth Bowne’s Render Unto Caesar, her parents paid for the extensive amount of wool yarn, the instructor’s time, and an expensive frame once finished. Upon completion, Elizabeth’s parents had an imposing work of art to display proudly in their parlor for admiring guests.
Polite and Useful Education will remain on view until the end of January 2019. While some of these exceptional examples entered the Association’s collection seventy years or more ago, it is believed that none of them have ever before been placed on exhibit.