The embroideries of colonial Boston girls and women have long been treasured family possessions and are now much sought after by collectors. The charm and craftsmanship of the Adam and Eve samplers, pastoral pictures with leaping stags and galloping hunters, as well as crewelwork bed hangings and delicately embroidered baby caps bring to mind a warm domesticity; however, as a group they also reveal much about the lives of Boston women and their role within colonial society.
The first of three exhibitions in the Edward and Nancy Roberts Family Gallery in the new wing for Art of the Americas, “Embroideries of Colonial Boston: Samplers” demonstrates the role these schoolgirl exercises played in educating Boston’s genteel young women. The use of samplers was common in Europe, and when the first colonists to New England arrived they brought their samplers with them to help educate their children. The exhibition will feature a pair of 17th-century samplers brought to Boston as well as two 17th-century American examples clearly illustrating the connection between Great Britain and the colonies. During the 18th century, samplers evolved from their original format as collections of embroidery stitches and designs into more pictorial works that could be proudly hung in the family home. Distinctive sampler styles developed throughout Boston that can be associated with specific neighborhoods. The exhibition will feature many of these styles, including Boston’s most famous samplers—those including the depiction of Adam and Eve at the bottom that were woven by girls from the North End of the city.