Sampler, c. 1786, Hannah Staples,
possibly Connecticut, American ( - ) Silk on linen, 10 3/4” x 10
‘/2”. Reproduction photograph.
| The sampler,
which Samuel Johnson defined in “A Dictionary of the English
Language” as “a pattern of work; a piece worked by young
girls for improvement,” was used before needlework handbooks
became available. Young women practiced stitches and stitch
combinations on a piece of cloth, learning decorative
motifs, letter styles, numerals and various embroideries
that they might later use on their household linens or
personal items such as petticoats, nightgowns, and
handkerchiefs. Some samplers were worked by little girls as
young as eight years of age, serving an educational purpose
by aiding them in learning of the alphabet and numbers.
Leaping Dear, mid I9th century,
Anonymous artist, American, steel pen and ink on paper. Abby
Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, VA. Reproduction
| In the computer age, it
requires a leap of imagination to hark back to another era
when the ability to write was a mark of culture and
penmanship an art. A “fine hand” was admired and school boys
worked on penmanship exercises with the same diligence their
sisters applied to needlework.
The Spenserian method of writing was widely taught in boys
academies and business schools. In the hands of a
particularly dexterous and imaginative penman it was
transformed into a fanciful and pictorial art. Animal
subjects seemed to hold special appeal.
Witch Whirligig, c. 1850, artist
unknown, New Hampshire or Massachusetts, Wood, painted. height II
1/2", Reproduction photograph.
| Since the time of the
infamous witch trials at Salem, MA during the 17”’ century,
the image of the witch has been imprinted upon the New
England psyche. During the 19”’ century, witch scarecrows,
weather vanes, and whirligigs were especially popular. This
gaily painted and decorated whirligig is fitted with a broom
that is topped by a propeller.
Shaker Spirit Drawing, c.1848, Amy
Reed, New England. reproduction print
| Signed, “from Mother
Ann to Amy Reed” January 7, 1848.
Mother Ann Lee, who fled from England in 1774, bringing a
tiny band of persecuted followers to
Watervliet, NY, founded the Shaker community. Celibate, they
lived communally. A spirit of
revivalism swept the Shaker communities expressing itself in
song, dance, prose and a variety of
inspirational drawings. They were revered as divine
revelations and in many cases lovingly preserved by their
owners, yet it seems that they were never displayed
publicly. The inscriptions, said to be messages from Mother
Ann, who had died in 1790, were mysterious and would be
explained and revealed at some future time, the Shakers
It is not surprising that these Shaker
artists depicted the glories of Heaven in terms of the
beauties of the natural world, for the sect had a special
feeling for nature. Shaker communities were situated in the
unspoiled countryside, and one of their most profitable
industries was the preparation of medicinal herbs and
packaged seeds. By about 1860 the Shaker revival had run its
course. As the atmosphere of the communities changed,
inspirational drawings ceased to be made, and a fascinating
chapter in the history of American folk art came to a close.
Oval Boxes, 19th century, Shaker,
New England. Wood, maple and pine with brass tacks. Length of
largest box, 13 ¼”. Reproduction photograph.
| If any one type of
Shaker small craft could be singled out to demonstrate the
perfection of their work, the choice would have to be that
of box making. Delicately constructed and beautifully
crafted little boxes were a Shaker specialty. These were
made in square, round and oval shapes. With their oval
boxes, baskets, and carriers, the Shakers created a craft
form which was uniquely their own. These distinctively
designed containers were made in dozens of different sizes,
starting with tiny ovals and graduating up to the handsome
full-size boxes and carriers. (They were sold by the dozens
in graduated sets.) Some were made as shallow lidded boxes;
others as baskets with fixed handles; and still others with
lids and fold-down loop handles. Despite their appearance of
flawless simplicity, construction of the carriers required
special skills. They were made of maple, birch, oak, and
cherry. The thin walls were fashioned with delicately shaped
fingers which were neatly overlapped and riveted at the
connection. Steam bending over a form provided the proper
shape. After the shape was secured, the overlapping end
fingers were glued and riveted. The bottom, mad of thicker
wood, was then inserted and tacked around the edges. Early
carriers were usually painted. But those made later,
particularly during this century, were stained in natural
wood tones, then varnished and polished.
Bottle Cap Basket, 20th century,
Artists unknown. Southern United States. Metal bottle caps, h. 12
1/2”. Reproduction photograph
| Bottle cap art is
strictly a 20”’ century phenomenon. Baskets, bowls, and
other utilitarian objects have
been fashioned by countless artisans across the country who
follow the early American tradition of
making something useful and attractive Out of discarded bits
and scraps. Few objects of this type have
the coherent sense of design evident in this piece.
Carousel Horse, 1902-1909, D.C.
Muller and Bro. Shop, Philadelphia, PA. Wood., carved and painted,
glass jewels and horsehair. H. 62”. Reproduction photograph.
| The carving of the
ears identifies this horse as the work of Daniel Muller.
Both Daniel and his brother Albert were excellent carvers
who learned their craft under the master carver Gustav
Dentzel. When they left Dentzel to form their own firm, they
specialized in making fine horse-drawn chariots for
Cigar Store Indian Maiden,
1875-1900, possibly made by Samuel Robb’s Studio, New York city.
Wood, carved and painted. h. 56”. Reproduction photograph.
carved representations of the Native American were
especially appropriate for use as display figures outside
19th century tobacconists' shops, for it was the Red Man who
introduced smoking tobacco to early adventurers exploring
the New World. Many cigar store Indians are unique - the
result of skillful carving by a single artisan. The majority
however, were created in carving shops where several carvers
might work on a single figure, each craftsman executing a
portion of the carving that best suited his particular
talents. Today, museums and private collectors are most
interested in those examples that have been preserved in
their original condition, with their painting decoration
- Bride’s Box, c. 1850, maker
unknown. 7 1/2” x 18 5/8” x 11 1/8”. The Historical Society of Berks
County, Reading, PA. Reproduction photograph.
| The first bride's
boxes probably came to America as part of the baggage of
German colonists. They became important items of furniture
in Pennsylvania. Often oval in shape, these boxes of thin
strips of pine were given to the bride by the groom at the
time of their wedding. Gaily decorated with colorful
illustrations, they became containers for personal
This box bears the
inscription: My pledge here I give my hand.
- Butterfly, weathervane, c. 1880,
poster, Shelburne Art Museum.
- The Sunflower Quilting Bee at Arles,
France, 1996, Faith Ringgold, American (1930 - ), lithograph
onto fabric, quilted. Poster
| Faith Ringgold,
artist and author, utilizes the art forms of painting, mixed
media sculpture, performance, quilts, and writing to tell
her story. Born October 8, 1930 in New York City’s Harlem
Hospital, Ringgold grew up on the heels of the Harlem
Renaissance and at the threshold of the Great Depression.
Her great grandmother, a slave, stitched quilts for her
master in Florida. Ringgold’s mother, Willi Posey, was a
fashion designer and dressmaker. Her father, Andrew Louis
Jones, Sr., came from a lineage of preachers versed in oral
tradition. Ringgold combines her inherited affinity for
fiber and her love of storytelling to deliver the message of
her personal history.
Ringgold studied art and education at City College in New
York during the 1960’s. In attempting to develop her own
personal style of art, she mixed elements of her formal
European art training with her personal study of African
art. Recurring motifs and features in her art work that were
borrowed from the African aesthetic, include: the Kuba, a
tie-dyed material using four triangles to compose a square,
and the utilization of figures with enlarged heads to
portray humans with great wisdom.
Fictional character, Willia Marie Simone, entertains a group
of famous nineteenth and twentieth century African-American
heroines who are traveling all over the world holding
quilting bees. Here in Arles, France, they meet the Dutch
painter Vincent van Gogh who made paintings of sunflowers.
Madame C. J. Walker (1879-1919) became the first
self-made American-born woman millionaire. She left over
half of her fortune to charitable and educational causes.
Sojourner Truth (c.1797-1883, born Isabella Baumfree)
spoke out against slavery and advocated for women’s rights.
Ida Wells (1862-1931) was a journalist who exposed the
horrors of lynching in the south through writing and
Hammer (1917-1977) was imprisoned for registering people
to vote. She succeeded in registering thousands of voters.
Harriet Tubman ( c.1820-1913) brought over 300 slaves to
freedom on the Underground Railroad.
Rosa Parks (1913- ) was arrested in 1955 because she
refused to give up her seat to a white man on a segregated
McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) was an educator who founded a
college for African-Americans. She also served as special
advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt.
Baker (1905-1986) was active in civil rights
organizations. She improved housing, jobs and consumer
education for African-Americans.