Thursday, March 1, 2012

Painting & Stitching 'Caliope & Clio' as a Schoolgirl Accomplishment, c 1810

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Susan reporting:

By the end of the 18th c, American young ladies who lived along the new republic's eastern seaboard were eager to demonstrate both their patriotism and their artistic skills in pieces like the one above. Every city boasted schools or academies run by respectable widows for the education of well-bred girls. The quality of the education varied greatly, with schools often placing more emphasis on genteel accomplishments like needlework, music, dancing, and general deportment than on academic subjects. This was perfectly agreeable to the pupils and their parents, and representative of a rising middle class with greater aspirations to gentility than academic achievement. (Click on the image to enlarge for details.)

Caliope & Clio, above, is a charming example of the work produced by these schoolgirls.  The design was commercially prepared by a professional artist, and transferred to the linen background. Sarah Skinner Ward (1796-1844), an adolescent student at Miss Maltby's School in Philadelphia, painted over the design with tempera paints and embellished it further with silk thread embroidery. The scene shows Clio, the muse of history, and Caliope, muse of epic poetry, creating tributes to national hero George Washington, and the composition neatly combining fashionable neo-classical elements with American patriotism. No doubt Miss Ward's parents were proud to frame and hang their daughter's work in their parlor.

Caliope & Clio is also an excellent example of how adaptable artists had to be to survive in 18th c America. The original painting was the work of artist Samuel Folwell (1763-1813). Folwell's professional services were diverse indeed: he advertised himself as as an engraver, miniature and fancy painter, hair worker, and teacher of drawing and painting "upon Sattin, Ivory or Paper." An engraving of Caliope & Clio also appeared in the 1810 Philadelphia Repertory, a popular journal "devoted to literature and useful intelligence" – which doubtless also impressed Miss Ward's parents.  (See here for another example of Folwell's design worked by a schoolgirl.)

This picture was featured in With Cunning Needle: Four Centuries of Embroidery, a recent exhibition held at Winterthur Museum. Although the exhibition is now closed, the gallery guide is still available on-line as a gorgeous, free PDF file here.

Above: Caliope & Clio, designed & painted by Samuel Folwell, and worked by Sarah Skinner Ward, Philadelphia, PA 1810-13. From the collection of Winterthur Museum, Garden, & Library.


textilehistorIE said...

Samuel was quite the entrepreneur! Someone to inspire us ;) Thanks for the link to the exhibition pdf too, am devouring it now.

Lyn S said...

The definition of genteel has changed. If anyone at school now drew a naked breast (even in the classical sense) it would result in a trip to the principal's office.
I learned embroidery in art in the 1960s. My daughter had a bit of stichery in the late 1990s, but the art of embroidery as a school subject really doesn't exist anymore in the US. Can you imaging standardized testing for needlework?

Two Nerdy History Girls. Design by Pocket