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Stephen & Carol Huber: 17th - 19th Century Needlework

needlework sampler Huber 289

Lot Number: 289 (description taken from Sotheby's catalogue)

Worked in silk threads, silk floss, and hair on linen in outline, buttonhole, satin and cross-stitches. Inscribed: Sarah Ann Boyer...1819/ Sarah McCardell Schoolmistress: Sarah McCardell. Some minor discoloration and fading. 19 3/4  by 20 3/4  inches. (28 threads to the inch).

Sothby's estimate: $10,000 - $15,000 (with 25% buyer's premium added)

Sold (SPECIAL SALES PRICE - no buyers premium)

(To purchase call 860-388-6809)

Catalogue Note
In 1819, Sarah Ann Boyer of Conestoga, Pennsylvania, and Jane Hyland of Marietta, Pennsylvania,1 attended a school for young ladies in Columbia kept by Sarah McCardell, whose name is carefully inscribed on the linen of the samplers they worked. The villages of Marietta, Conestoga, and Columbia, all in Lancaster County, overlap one another in the Susquehanna Valley near Pequea Creek, where shady oaks and slender historic houses still line the narrow streets. Little is known of the early life of this accomplished schoolmistress, but the quality of the surviving needlework attests to her ability as an artist of exceptional merit. With sweeping pen, Sarah McCardell marked the linen for each child, creating samplers of great beauty. Although the Boyer and Hyland samplers are both known to have been worked under McCardell's instruction, it is evident that she made little effort to conform to a traditional format. It is as though she followed only her own whimsical imagination. Each of these lavishly embroidered pictorial samplers depicts a balanced composition of an unidentified building and stylish fencing enclosures, furniture for the out-of-doors, flowers in baskets and empty baskets, lawns and swans, and young ladies with real hair. Either a bower of grape vines or intertwining leafy blossoms border the samplers within their stitched frame of large sawtooth satin stitches. The female figures on both samplers are distinguished by their imperfectly shortened necks. They resemble a child's "handkerchief' doll, head gathered in the middle around a cotton wad and tied with a string. Certain similarities may also be detected in the manner in which the houses have been stitched. Both buildings feature a portico extending out to the left, and a round window of buttonhole stitches has been inset over the glazed, circular fanlight that enhances each sampler door. The end boards are outlined, and the foundations arranged in checkered squares. Architectural details such as these assist in identifying related bodies of needlework. Although Sarah McCardell, who by 1825 was Mrs. Joseph Shenk, remains unnamed on the sampler worked by Sarah Elizabeth Cooper,2 this sampler resembles those worked by Sarah Ann Boyer and Jane Hyland, which makes it tempting to point to McCardell as the instructress of all three samplermakers. In 1806, while attending Jefferson College at Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, Stephen Boyer married Sarah Ann Dunlap, daughter of Reverend James Dunlap, college president. The first of seven children, Sarah Ann Dunlap Boyer was born on September 18, 1807.3 From 1813 to 1823, Reverend Boyer was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Columbia. During this time, Sarah Ann Boyer began attending classes conducted by schoolmistress Sarah McCardell. 4 In 1823, Reverend Boyer accepted a position at the York County Academy. After the death of his wife, he married Mary Turner in 1827.5 In 1829, Sarah Ann Boyer married Reverend Alexander McCahon (1794-1873). Born in Ireland, McCahon was considered a "Presbyterian divine of great power." Soon after their marriage, Sarah Ann began to write regularly for a number of religious publications and New York weeklies. They became the parents of four children.6 Sarah Ann Boyer McCahon died in Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 7, 1871, at the age of sixty-four. 7

Sarah McCardell, the daughter of James Terrance McCardell (or McCardle), was born on June 17, 1791.8 Probably, about 1820, she married Jacob Shenk, a widower with five children.9 Their first child, Rachael, was born in 1821. In the summer of 1822, Jacob purchased from his parents a large tract of land adjoining Pequea Creek in the townships of Martick and Conestoga, for the astonishing sum of eight thousand dollars. 10 They became the parents of six children, including one set of twins. It appears unlikely that Sarah McCardell Shenk continued to teach after marrying a wealthy man and beginning a family of her own. Jacob died in 1843. Sarah McCardell Shenk died on December 28, 1863, at the age of seventy-two, leaving behind these intimate, fragile embroidered samplers, patterns of quite exceptional beauty.11

1. The Hyland sampler is in the collection of the Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA; see Ring, "Samplers and Pictorial Needlework," 1433.

2. The Cooper sampler is in the collection of the Chester County Historical Society, West Chester, P A; see Schiffer, Historical Needlework of Pennsylvania, 72. I am indebted to Betty Ring for bringing the related details of this sampler to my attention.

3. Donald Arthur Boyer, American Boyers, vol. 1 (York, P A: Association of American Boyers, Inc., 1984),641,642.

4. Ibid., 642. See also A History of the York County Academy (York, PA: Trustees ofthe York County Academy and the Historical Society of York County, 1952), 88, 89.

5. Ibid., 88, 89. See also York Recorder, May 8, 1827.

6. Boyer, American Boyers, 642. In 1869, Sarah Ann Boyer began writing an unpublished genealogy of Gabriel Beyer, her immigrant ancestor. In 1984, it was in the possession of Mrs. Mary Bridenbaugh of Tarkio, MO, according to Donald Boyer.

7. Ibid.

8. Records of Field Cemetery, Jacob Thomas Farm, Conestoga, Pennsylvania (Historical Society of York, PA). The burial ground was "on the road from Conestoga Centre to Sickman's Mill."

9. This is based on information in a deed book (see n. 10), although the only recorded information regarding their marriage (see Family Record Archives, Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT) seems to deny the fact.

10. Deed Book, Land Records, Lancaster County, vol. B, no. 5: 102-106. This records a deed transfer from "Sarah Shenk, daughter to Sarah Shenk, widow of Joseph Shenk," clearly establishing that Sarah McCardell Shenk was stepmother to Sarah Shenk.

11. Records of Field Cemetery, John Hess Farm, Conestoga, Pennsylvania (Historical Society of York, P A).

Exhibited and Literature: LACMA, pp. 101-103, fig. 43

(860) 388-6809


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