Lot Number: 257 includes 2 samplers (description taken from Sotheby's catalogue)
RARE NEEDLEWORK SAMPLER: A NEW ENGLAND FAMILY TREE, LOUISA H. PLYMPTON (B. 1812), MIDDLESEX COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS,
Worked in silk threads and crinkled silk floss on linen in satin, tent, Gobelin, Roumanian, outline and cross-stitches.
Inscribed: Louisa/bn/July 6 1806/Ebenr/bn/July 4/1808/Louisa/bn/May 20/1812/Harriet/bn/Sept 29/1814
/Fanny/bn/Feb 24/1817/George/Bn/Nov18/1828/Tho.R/Plympton/bn/Aug20/1782/Elizabeth/Plympton/bn/ Jan 28/1787 Family
Record/Married Oct 2/1805/Louisa H Plympton. 15 1/4 by 16 inches. (34 threads to the inch).
Together with a small cross-stitch sampler by Louisa H. Plympton on a linen ground. 7 1/4 by 12 1/2
Sothby's estimate: $18,750 - $25,000 (with 25% buyer's premium added)
Sold (SPECIAL SALES PRICE - no buyers
For both pieces shown above.
(To purchase call 860-388-6809)
The folk artist in America has long shown a fondness for the tree of life as an expressive design form. This tree
became a decorative motif much favored by stone carvers, painters, quilt and coverlet makers, and samplermakers,
as well. During the colonial period, embroidered trees were depicted in a stilted, stylized manner. But in the
newly formed republic a more naturalistic rendering of sturdy trunks, limbs, and fruit-filled branches emerged,
replete with names and birth dates of family members. This sampler stitched by Louisa Plympton is an exquisite
example of the family tree design. The origin of the fruit motif to represent children that is seen here and in
many other samplers remains a mystery. The double-heart at the base of the tree has been found on numerous watercolors
from the end of the eighteenth century.1 Imaginative schoolmistresses may have had access to the print from which
this design originated, adapting it to classroom embroidery. Rebecca Wild's sampler (fig. 24), for example, is
prominently decorated with an overlapping heart motif. A family register watercolor painted by Rebecca Tufts Fesseden
between about 1810 and 1812 in a style similar to the Plympton family sampler has recently come to light. Inscribed
"Mrs. Gill's Academy, West Cambridge," it is possibly the first tangible clue to the identity of at least
one preceptress responsible for the tree-of-life embroideries worked in this area.2 Louisa Plympton's teacher and
the exact location of her school still remain unknown, but the design appears to have become a distinctively regional
pattern that was employed by several Middlesex County samplermakers.3 Peter Benes, in Families and Children, traces
the use of this symbolic tree to three locations: eastern and central Middlesex County, Cape Ann in eastern Essex
County, and coastal southeastern New England." 4 Differing slightly in interpretation, these samplers are
of two loosely related styles. One group is worked with an encompassing archway, or three-sided border, of thickly
stitched, dark green leaves, while the other displays a delicately looped garland across the top, often tied with
ribbon bows, and, frequently, decorative columns with elaborate plinths adorning the sides. The embroideries date
from about 1794 to 1833, with professional watercolorists employing the identical design during the same period.
5 Long, uncouched stitches, resembling oyster-colored satin, cover the entire linen ground of Louisa's sampler,
giving it a lustrous, opalescent sheen. The multicolored plumes have been directed to a point below the tree, adding
another heart-shaped motif. Two unattached circles inscribed "Louisa, b. 1806," and "Fanny, b. 1817,"
separated from the branches, indicate that these children did not survive. Louisa Holden Plympton was born on May
26, 1812, the date inscribed on her family record sampler (fig. 21). On an earlier sampler worked by Louisa, her
age has been removed (fig. 22). The daughter of Thomas Ruggles Plympton and Betsy Holden of East Sudbury, Massachusetts,
Louisa married Josiah Beard of Waltham in 1832. They were the parents of Adeline Louisa Beard, who embroidered
the marking sampler (fig. 23) inscribed "W ham ...1840," revealing that she was attending needlework
classes by the age of seven." 6
1. Cynthia V. A. Schaffner and Susan Klein, Folk Hearts, A Celebration of the Heart Motif in American Folk Art
(New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984), 56,57.
2. Antiques (April 1988): 760 (advertisement).
3. Families and Children, ed. Peter Benes (Dublin, NH: Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 1987),91-129, fn.
21,104. Benes presents the names of several candidates who may have been the schoolmistresses who instructed their
needlework students in this specific and unusually decorative design. Among those thought to qualify are Bathsheba
Whitman, who taught for a time at Sandwich Academy; Miss Bowers, who advertised a school for young ladies in Billerica
during 1814 and 1815; the Misses M. & C. Stearns; and Mrs. Haswell of Charlestown.
4. Ibid., 103.
5. Ibid., checklist: 131-145. I am indebted to Sheila Rideout for bringing two of these related samplers to my
6. Vital Records of Sudbury, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1850 (Boston, MA: New England Historical Genealogical
Society, 1903),251. See also Vital Records of Waltham, Massachusetts, to the End of the Year 1850 (Boston, MA:
New England Historical Genealogical Society, 1904), 13,205; and Levi B. Chase, A Genealogy of and Historical Notices
of the Family of Plympton in America (Hartford, CT: Plympton Mfg. Co., 1884). Researched by Sheila Rideout.
Childhood Treasuers, Modesto, California, July 1985
Exhibition and Literature: LACMA, pp. 64-67, figs. 21 and 22
STEPHEN & CAROL HUBER
View Other Edmonds Samplers