American folk art encompasses many different media that convey a sense of naive purity. Mostly made by artists who are self-taught and nonconforming to various artistic movements, they offer a simple aesthetic that expresses their cultural identity. American folk art tells a important story about the history of the United States. These objects serve as a window into the life of the common person in America. Whether it's a portrait painting that gives us a visual documentation of the people of the era, a weather vane that shows us the life of a farmer, or a needlework sampler that gives us a glimpse into the life of a young school girl preparing herself for her adult domestic life.
Needlework samplers have recently gained the recognition that they deserve. They represent far more than simply being a sewing sample, they chronicle the history of young girls in America, specifically in the South.
American Needlework Samplers were mostly created between the middle 18th century to the middle of the 19th century. During this time young girls were only taught basic reading and arithmetic while focusing on "female accomplishments-music, watercolor painting, comportment, manners, and sewing." Sewing was a very important aspect of domestic life. These young girls used these samplers to display their sewing talents to potential husbands. The girls would additionally include bible verses that showed female virtue and their obedience to God and family. Samplers became a symbol for gender roles in early American history.
Needlework samplers were very delicate and feminine in form. The works that are larger and more intricate have very detailed stitching. Stylized borders and motifs give these works a very whimsical effect along with their beautiful use of color. These elements help determine the experience and talent of the artist. They also provide information on the schools or regions that these works were produced. Since many of the institutions that taught needlework had unique designs or styles, it has become easier to place these works to certain schools. Some of these works also incorporate famous buildings in their compositions which also help in unveiling their origin. Determining where the samplers originated is very important in determining their collectibility. Some samplers from well-known schools command very high prices.
Needlework samplers serve as a wonderful visual aid to help us look into the lives of young girls in America during the 18th and 19th century. Not only do these works represent feminine roles in American society, they serve as wonderful decorative pieces. The innocence and playful elements enhance the mood of any room that they are in.
Written and researched by Robert Snell
MIR Appraisal Services, Inc.
307 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 308
Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: (312) 814-8510
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