Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840, to Open October 5th

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Connecticut Historical Society exhibit to showcase intricately detailed early American needlework handcrafted by Connecticut women and girls

The Connecticut Historical Society (CHS), a non-profit museum, research library, and education center whose mission is to inspire and foster an interest in history, will open the exhibit Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840, on October 5th. The exhibit contains 82 rare, colorful, and imaginatively designed examples of early American needlework, representing 32 Connecticut towns, which reveal clues about the lives of the Connecticut girls and women who created them.

On display through March 26, 2011, Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840, an original exhibition developed by the Connecticut Historical Society over the past three years, showcases lavishly detailed works of art from throughout Connecticut. Featured in the exhibit are more than 20 pieces created by women from the Punderson family of Preston. These unparalleled treasures of needlework epitomize how needlework skills passed through female family networks, just as metal-smithing and wood-working skills passed between male family networks. Other needleworks include those created by young women from the Royse and Patten schools in Hartford and the Pierce School in Litchfield.

The exhibit consists of four galleries, each with a unique theme:

  •     “Decorative Needlework: Functional Items for Home and Family” contains rare and unique items such as an extraordinary 3 year-old boy’s jacket covered with crewel embroidery and a fully intact bed spread that shows a colonial version of the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve as a buckle-shoed, fashionable eighteenth-century couple.
  •     “Needlework Schools and Making Samplers” displays charming samplers, ranging from simple to intricate. Each example demonstrates its maker’s mastery of a level of education and accomplishment.
  •     “Pictorial Needlework” consists of rarely seen, large scale pictures in vibrantly colored thread. These intricately designed needleworks combine painting and embroidery and include Biblical and Classical scenes such as the finding of Moses in the bulrushes. The pictures are a feast for the eye as well as historical evidence of the refinement and sensitivity expected of an ideal woman of the time.
  •     “Needlework and Family” includes works ranging from family registers and memorials to beautifully worked coats of arms. Also contained in this gallery are the visual masterpieces created by the Punderson family that impart their exquisite history.

All of the works displayed were created between 1740 and 1840, a period that brackets the transformation from English colony to American state.

“This exhibit is not only a visual feast, but a historical feast too. Individually stunning, these works also tell about the lives and times of the privileged Connecticut girls and women who set their countless stitches into cloth.” said Kate Steinway, executive director, Connecticut Historical Society. “Early American needlework continues to be an inspiration to contemporary artists, such as Kiki Smith, who drew inspiration from Prudence Punderson’s silk needlework, The First, Second and Last Scene of Mortality, for her recent installation, Sojourn, at The Brooklyn Museum. We are excited for the exhibit to open and for people to learn about the role of early American needlework in Connecticut’s history.”

Connecticut Needlework: Women, Art, and Family, 1740-1840, is supported by generous grants for publication and exhibition from the Coby Foundation, Ltd. and the National Endowment for the Arts. Its premier gallery sponsors are Nathan Liverant and Son of Colchester, Connecticut, and Jan Whitlock Textiles of West Chester, Pennsylvania. The contributing exhibition sponsor is Northeast Auctions of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and exhibition sponsors are, Frederick Copeland of Avon, Connecticut, M. Finkel and Daughter of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Titi Haller, Cora Ginsburg, LLC of New York, New York, Carol and Stephen Huber of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and Nadeau’s Auction Gallery, Inc. of Windsor, Connecticut.

In addition to the exhibit, a fully-illustrated book written by Susan P. Schoelwer, curator, George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens and former director of collections at the Connecticut Historical Society, and published by Wesleyan University Press is also available. The book was drawn from the Connecticut Historical Society’s extraordinary textile collection and will be on sale at the Connecticut Historical Society, 1 Elizabeth Street, Hartford, Conn., beginning October 15th. A variety of products related to needlework can be purchased in the museum’s store and online at

About Connecticut Historical Society:
Established in 1825, Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) is a non-profit museum, library, and education center. It is one of the oldest historical societies in the nation and houses one of the most distinguished collections in New England. CHS is home to one of the most comprehensive research libraries in the State, helping people to discover their own family stories, towns and relationships to the greater community. CHS is also one of the State’s largest providers of museum education programs for school, youth and community groups and offers hands-on, interactive learning experiences for both students and their families. In addition to its own collection, CHS showcases a variety of exhibits, guest speakers and programs throughout the year. To learn more, visit or call 860.236.5621.

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