More research on stitchery in the Mansion

Reporter in Residence
Monroe Mouse

In the last Fanlight I shared my new interest in finding out about “old time” stitchery after seeing framed samplers hanging in the Stroud room — one stitched by Jacob Stroud’s daughter Jemima and the other by his granddaughter Sarah. An exciting aspect of researching something is that the deeper you go, the more questions you have and the more you realize what you don’t know. So, let me tell you what I have found out about two other pieces of stitchery in the Stroud Mansion.

First of all, I found that there are different types.

The pieces stitched by Jemima and Sarah can be called “technical” samplers — “practical projects” that include basic stitches and experiments in technique, usually depicting numbers and alphabets, poems, sayings, or Bible verses, border designsm and some objects like buildings, flowers, or animals.

A girl stitching the sampler usually included her name, the year, sometimes the school or place where she created the piece, and occasionally her teacher’s name.

Samplers that feature “pictorial content” are “storytelling” pieces, such as the one finished by Emaline Eagles, age 14, in 1832. It shows a building in the center of a scene bordered with glorious, colorful flowers of silk and wool thread, all on linen fabric.

Emaline moved to Stroudsburg the year after, and lived in the Stroud Mansion where her family ran a hotel called Mansion House! In 1847, Emaline married a peddler named Jacob Wyckoff, who later founded Wyckoff’s Department Store. My research also revealed that Emaline worked on the sampler for two years while attending Mary Ralston’s Private School in Easton.

Mary Ralston “may have set the trend in eastern Pennsylvania for large samplers featuring impressive buildings surrounded by heavy borders worked in wool,” says Betty King in her book “Childhood Embroidery.” She would draw one flower at a time on a pupil’s work and then direct the pupil to fill it in with stitches.

Mary opened her school around 1812, and with her daughter continued to teach until the 1840s. Many samplers have been identified as being created by Ralston School students. And our own Agnes Webb was the first to notice that large floral borders are common in samplers stitched by Ralston School students.

Another storytelling sampler hangs over the fireplace on the second floor in what is now called the dining room. It was stitched by Maria Poppel, age 13, in 1812.

When researching anything historic, there may be no person, book or mouse available that is “first person” familiar with the subject. In that case, one must rely on “secondary sources” that report what they heard from those who did know firsthand.

It reminds me of playing the game “Gossip” with my mouse cousins — we stand in a circle and one of us starts by squeaking into the ear of the closest mouse and then he or she squeaks to the next mouse and so on. When finally spoken aloud, the squeak usually has been changed so much it comes out a SQUAWK instead of a tiny mouse noise.

A history detective has to make sense of secondary information, relying on experts’ knowledge of the artifact and its context.

The information I found about Maria Poppel’s work states that she did the stitching and “probably painted the background herself.” But Brett Fowler, the MCHA collections specialist, isn’t sure. He pointed out that the scene, and especially the human faces, don’t look like something a young girl would be able to do.

The technique of stitching to embellish a piece of art was very popular in the 1800s, but most often the underlying piece was an already existing painting or etching made by someone other than the stitcher.

It is clear that Maria did the beautiful, fine stitching on the sampler, but unlikely that, based on Maria’s age, the sophistication of the faces and perspective, and the use of a different medium (oil paint), she did not create the background image.

Of course we can’t be absolutely sure, and no matter what, it is an exquisite piece! The next time you visit the mansion, I hope you will take the opportunity to look closely at the samplers on display.