Monday, March 23, 2015

American Schoolgirl Embroideries: Part I

A week or so ago I had the pleasure of attending Lessons Learned: American Schoolgirl Embroideries at the Baltimore Museum of Art; an exhibition of samplers and silk embroideries made by American girls from schools in Maryland and the East Coast in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Detail from the Queen of Sheba embroidery, 1819, Baltimore Museum of Art
With just over 20 pieces, the exhibition has significant breadth, including works that were not only varied in subject matter but used a wide-range of materials as well.   There were quite a number of silk embroideries, many of which included metal and hand-painting.  If you live nearby, it runs through May 2015 and is well worth the trip.  Admission to the museum and exhibition is free of charge.

There was one embroidery that just knocked my socks off and it was quite large (approx. 3'x5');  a rendering of the Queen of Sheba's visit to King Solomon...

Queen of Sheba, 1819, Baltimore Museum of Art.
Embroiderer:  M.B. (American, dates unknown) at Ann Elizabeth Gebler Folwell's School, United States, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.  Silk ground; silk chenille, silk and wool embroidery threads; metallic purl and sequins; glass beads and gems; paint.  
I did a little research on the Queen of Sheba tale since I was curious as to why a girl or her teacher might have chosen this subject to embroider.

I didn't really know too much about the story other than that it appears in the Old Testament.   Depending on which version you consult, the short narrative goes something like this:

And when the Queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the LORD, she came to prove him with hard questions. And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bore spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart. And King Solomon gave unto the Queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.(I Kings 10 v.1-13)

The historical popularity of the tale seems an enigma of sorts with various differences and meanings attributed to Jewish, Islamic, Christian and Ethiopian traditions.

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Giovanni Demin, 1789-1859
It does seem that Sheba came from the ancient area of Saba which is modern-day Yemen; Sheba is thought to have been Ethiopian (That would make her skin brown which is not how she is portrayed in the examples set forth here today.  hmmm.).  In Christian tradition, some say that the tale presaged the adoration of Christ since Sheba brought to Solomon the same gifts as the Magi.

I didn't find any solid answers but I think if I were a young girl, I might be attracted to stitching the tale because of all the references to gold, gems and royalty.  After all, she got to use gold threads, glass "gems", beads, silk and chenille to stitch her picture.

In the 18th and 19th century, even girls of modest means were taught sewing and simple embroidery stitches on samplers.  Families that could afford it could pay an additional fee over and above the cost of academics for their daughters to receive advanced needlework instruction at boarding or day schools.  After completing their coursework, girls would return home with an elaborate sampler or elegant picture to present to their parents as proof of their accomplishment.  

This Queen of Sheba scene was drawn by Ann Elizabeth Gebler Folwell's husband, Samuel, who was a professional artist.  After his death, their son Godfrey, painted the faces, sky and other details.

One Jewish version of the story says that the Queen mistook the shiny marble floor as a pool of water and lifted her dress, showing off her legs.  Evidently she was reprimanded, not for the immodest display of her gams but for the fact that they were overly hairy.

I checked the embroidery to perhaps find some proof of this...

But alas, found none.

The plush, silk chenille carpet beneath the Queen's feet...

Contrasted beautifully with the flat silk embroidery of the black and white tile...

The lions resting at the foot of the stairs are wonderfully wrought with their padded paws, bushy eyebrows, and manes of chenille.  

Even the stairs were opulent with goldwork swirls amidst lines of clear glass beads...

This is the first piece I've seen that contained so much chenille thread.  It must have come on huge spools for use at the school.  The chenille threads were much finer than any that I have found commercially available today.

Note the use of the chenille thread in stitching the column below...

Changing the direction of the stitches changes the way that the light reflects off the thread which gives the column its dimension.

Despite the allure of all the Queen's riches, my favorite part of the embroidery is this urn which stand atop the trompe l'oeil marble column...

Something about the muted roses, the hint of blue and the dust green garland set against the silver gray of the urn...

Manifests a faded elegance worthy of a Queen.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Lucky Stitcher

Good luck!  

It's an almost automatic response when you encounter someone who is getting ready to take a test, perform a song, give a speech or attempt to complete three phases of Japanese Embroidery in order to graduate by October.

Wishing someone luck implies bestowing upon them all good forces that can be mustered from the cosmos to support them in their journey.  As if luck is just sprinkled down upon us like manna from heaven and success resulting from luck is accidental or the result of divine providence.

Conversely, the standard phrase used in Japanese culture when someone is facing a challenge has nothing to do with luck.

For the Japanese, the standard no-thinking-about-it reply is

ganbatte! or 頑張って!or がんばって

Gonbatte comes from the verb form gonbaru (頑張る, がんばる) which means to strive, to try one's best.

In other words, luck only comes through effort and working hard. 

At the end of embroidery class in Japan, my sensei would say: Gonbatte kudasai!

And the students would answer: gonbarimasu (がんばります) or  "I will work hard."

Today, I'm happy to take the luck of the Irish if it's being offered.

But I'll count on the wisdom of the Japanese and just plain get to work.

I've got class this Saturday and I'm trying to finish as much of the gold honeysuckle vine that I can by then.

Go n-éirí an t-ádh leat and gonbatte!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Cherry Bomb!

Just a quick progress report on my Sake Box -- Phase IX for Japanese Embroidery.

I've completed all those goldwork cherry blossoms and curlicues on the main round box.  Phew!

According to my Toggl timer, the goldwork on the lid only took me 31 hours. 

One of the reasons it may have taken so long was all the corners that have to be turned in each petal...

That plus sinking all the gold threads of those curlicues.  I'm so glad to have that section finished.  

I'm very fond of cherry blossoms and these versions in gold are the bomb!

After I finished the cherry bombs blossoms, I transferred the design for the honeysuckle vine on the ladle.  Yes, that rectangular shape is actually a sake ladle; the orange is the interior and the black is the outside.  It might all come clearer when I finish stitching the ladle's other components.  Then again, maybe not.

Today I'll begin couching the gold vine on top of the foundation...

I am hoping that the lack of corners in this goldwork will make it all flow more quickly.  

Thanks for stopping by to check on me.  Now I'm back to work.

Happy Day everyone.

Related Posts with Thumbnails