Lot Number: 262 (description taken from Sotheby's catalogue)
RARE NEEDLEWORK SAMPLER, REBECCA J. WILD (1820-1899), CHARLESTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS, DATED 1831
Worked in silk threads and crinkled silk floss on linen with satin, long and short, outline and cross-stitches.
Inscribed: Elisha Wild/born Jane 3/Carloline Healy/born June 4/1798/Married/Feb 26/1818 FAMILY RECORD/John F
Wild bn Dec 23/1818/Rebecca J Wild Bn Feb 21 1820/Caroline L Wild Bn Oct 13 1824/While I with care my work pursue/And
to my book my mind apply/Ill keep my teachrs love in view/And guard my way with watch/ful eye/But most of all Ill
mind that word/Which brings salvation from the Lord/Sacred to the Memory of Wrought by Rebecca J Wild/Charlestown
Jan 1 1831/Aged 10 years. 17 1/2 by 15 1/2 inches. (26 threads to the inch).
Sothby's estimate: $12,500 - $18,700 (with 25% buyer's premium added)
Sold (SPECIAL SALES PRICE - no
(To purchase call 860-388-6809)
For centuries, the heart-shaped motif has enchanted American artisans. Considered "a universal symbol of secular
and religious love, courage, and friendship, hospitality, loyalty, and fidelity,"1 the heart could be duplicated
in two sweeping curves by even the most untrained artist. It decorates early American painted chests and other
country furniture and has appeared in minute stitching on quilts, in garish colors on paper marriage and birth
certificates, and in an endless variety of splendid folk art. Since the eighteenth century, hearts-and the strawberry
vine-have proved to be popular sampler motifs. Pennsylvania Germans delighted in embroidering samplers and decorating
towels with a cross-stitched heart, frequently topping it with a crown. It is, in fact, a rare occasion when a
Pennsylvania towel appears without a heart among its numerous patterns.2 The source of the arrangement of three
overlapping hearts on Rebecca Wild's sampler presents a mystery in the world of sampler embroidery. The identical
motif has been found on watercolor paintings in the same east-southeast section of Massachusetts as early as the
last decade of the eighteenth century. Evidently, this enticing design found its way into popular use, inspired
by an earlier print or engraving, which is yet to be discovered. 3 Other samplers of identical format present ample
evidence that a school for girls existed in Charlestown, Massachusetts, at least between 1824 and 1833.4 Their
unidentified schoolmistress was not a very creative artist. The linen is a jumble of unimaginative sampler patterns-a
family record, a pictorial sampler with a yellow cross-stitched house, an alphabet marking sampler, and a mourning
embroidery-all crowded into one. The violet-colored flowers adjacent to the hearts provide the only drama in the
sampler. But the samplers are still enjoyable even when their artistic value is questionable. Elisha Wild, a blacksmith,
and Caroline Healy were married in 1818. Rebecca Wild, one of their four children, was born on February 21, 1820,
as we know from her sampler.5 Rebecca Jane Wild married Moses Parker of Boston (d. 1855) in 1839. He was a blacksmith,
like her father. Their only son, George Parker, was born on July 15, 1855.6 There appears to be no record of the
date of Rebecca's second marriage, to Amasa Thayer of Braintree. The first mention of the name Rebecca J. Thayer
is recorded in November 1869, when she formally requested guardianship of her son, George, a minor.7 Rebecca died
May 19, 1899, in Braintree, Massachusetts.8
1. Schaffner and Klein, Folk Hearts, introduction.
2. Colby, Samplers, 175. See also Susan Burrows Swan, "Household Textiles,"in Arts of the Pennsylvania
Germans, ed. Catherine E. Hutchins (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1983),226; Ellen J. Gehert, This Is the Way I Pass
My Time (Birdsboro, PA: Pennsylvania German Society, 1985), 10,59, 67,69. I agree with Gehert, who declares that
the embroidered towel is a folk phenomenon. However, it is difficult to imagine that Pennsylvanian-decorated towels
are "not thought to have been worked under the influence of a schoolmistress" (p. 67). These embroidered
towels are astonishingly similar to Pennsylvania German spot-motif samplers, and it would seem logical for a schoolmistress
to require both a sampler and a towel to complete a girl's needlework instruction (p. 69). Concerning freehand
drawings, Gehert writes, "Many young ladies drew freely onto their towel familiar objects, flowers, and birds"
(the source of which is presumably "beyond recall," p. 67). Quite the opposite is true. An exact rendition
of the leaping deer illustrated on the towel embroidered by Clary Hallman, 1841, can be found in sampler stitchery
dating from the early years of the eighteenth century (Nancy Graves Cabot, "The Fishing Lady and Boston Common,"
in Needlework: an Historical Survey, ed. Betty Ring, New York, NY: Main Street Press, 1975),48. Possibly further
investigation into this puzzling situation might reveal a different conclusion.
3. Gehert, This Is the Way I Pass My Time, 62, 63. Illustrated are excellent examples of the use of broadsides,
book illustrations, and other printed material as inspiration for needlework patterns.
4. Eliza Ann Hunt worked an identical sampler in 1824 (collection, Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design, Smithsonian
Institution, New York, NY; see Schaffner and Klein, Folk Hearts, 42); Frances Howe worked hers in February 1827
(private collection; see Sotheby's, New York, catalogue, Fine American Furniture and Related Decorative Arts, 4590Y,
April 29-May 1, 1981, lot 680); and Lucy Ann Williams worked her Charlestown sampler November 1830 (Sotheby's,
5156, January 27,1984, lot 511). Rebecca Wild's sampler is dated 1831.
5. Edward Evarts Jackson, Wild Genealogy (excerpts from Boston Evening Transcript, Boston, MA: New England Historical
Genealogical Society, 1905), 13. Dates given disagree with sampler dates, which are generally accepted as being
more accurate. See also Records of the First Congregational Church, Braintree, Massachusetts, 1711-1762 and 1811-1859,
copied by Abigail Phillips, Quincy Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution (Wollaston, MA, 1942), 115. These
dates tally with the sampler dates. Federal Census, Braintree, Massachusetts, 1850, gives Elisha Wild's occupation
as blacksmith. His real estate is valued at three thousand dollars.
6. A handwritten document in the Waldo C. Sprague Collection, American Department, New England Historical and Genealogical
Society, Boston, MA, records the marriage of Rebecca Wild to Moses Parker. Moses Parker's death and occupation
are registered in the Death Records, Quimy, 1859, 166. The birth date for George Parker is included in the application
for guardianship, Norfolk County Probate Court, November 25, 1869. Petition, Citation and Decree for Guardianship
of Minors, vol. 123: 381.
7. Probate Records, Norfolk County, no. 18.046, filed January 9, 1866. Amasa Thayer's parents, Levi and Lilla Thayer,
owned a parcel of land in Boston, on Market Square, held in life trust for their sons, Ira and Amasa. The record
may be found in a trusteeship dated June 9, 1866, Probate Records, Norfolk County, Will, vol. 115: 927. In Amasa
Thayer's will, June 9, 1866, his real property is valued at $14,915, including stores number 36, 38, and 40, Faneuil
Hall, Boston. He left Rebecca the sum of $10, "together with what she may be entitled by the laws of the Commonwealth,
had no will been made by me." See no. 21.860, Thayer, Amasa; will; filed March 24, 1880, Norfolk County, Town
8. Probate Records, Norfolk County, no. 33.516, filed May 3, 1898, allowed June 8, 1898, vol. 188: 419. Her death
is recorded in vol. 494: 10.
Exhibition and Literature: LACMA, pp. 67-69, fig. 24
STEPHEN & CAROL HUBER
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