Lot Number: 296 (description taken from Sotheby's catalogue)
RARE NEEDLEWORK SAMPLER, CATHERINE STAPE (B. 1821), PENNSYLVANIA, DATED 1832
Worked in silk, twisted silk threads and crinkled silk floss on linen in queen, satin, chain, tent and cross-stitches.
Inscribed: Catharine Stage Her/Samgler Worked in The 12th Year of her Age AG/1832./Julian Stape. 17 1/4
by 16 3/4 inches. (28 threads to the inch). Some creasing, minor fading and discoloration.
Sothby's estimate: $15,000 - $22,500 (with 25% buyer's premium added)
Sold (SPECIAL SALES PRICE - no
(To purchase call 860-388-6809)
Household textiles were held in high esteem by the German- American families who settled in Pennsylvania. Domestic
sewing exercises began with a sampler, embellished, inevitably, with heart-shaped motifs and paired birds of long-forgotten
origin. Rarely framed, Germanic samplers were stored in drawers or chests, along with embroidered towels and linens,
as evidence of a daughter's proficiency with the needle. Fortunately, this practice also protected them from harmful
sunlight, which explains the clear colors of the silk and the fine condition of the linen so often found today.1
Although ornamental, or fancy, samplers were relatively uncommon, Catharine Stape's pictorial needlework, unlike
Germanic spot motif samplers worked from paper charts, stylistically resembles a popular form of schoolgirl art
found to have been worked in the vicinity of the Susquehanna River near Harrisburg. This group depicts "mile-high"
figures in pictorial settings. These Lancaster County samplers share regional patterns, although they were not
necessarily worked in the same schoolroom. 2 Early in the nineteenth century, private schools for girls grew rapidly
in Lancaster County. The Moravians, a German-American religious sect, established schools in Lititz and Bethlehem,
which placed emphasis on needlework skills that came to be greatly admired. 3 In July 1775, Henry Bedinger of Shepherdstown,
Virginia, wrote in his diary as he traveled north toward Boston that he saw in Bethlehem a "Nunnery consisting
of about One Hundred and Thirty Young Women" in a large house, who "Do all Kinds of fine work, Make the
finest of Lawn Cambrick, and Every Sort of finery that Can be Performed with Needles."4 Other distinguished
schools were kept by Leah Galligher Meguier (fig. 42), Catherine Welchans Buchanan, Rachael Bratton Armstrong,
Mary Reed, and the yet to be located Mrs. ROSS.5 The stitching and the spacing of the letters in the black silk
inscriptions on Catharine's sampler suggests that English may have been her second language. For example, her execution
of the letter p in the word sampler takes on the shape, though not the intention, of the letters g or q, spelling
it samgler or samqler. Additionally, her surname, Stape, encircled within a leafy cartouche, and that of her father,
Bernerd Stape, are spelled with the p reversed, thus Stage. Probably of German descent, she may not have had a
fluent grasp of the English language. Many of the families who settled on the rich farming land around York and
Lancaster counties lived within a relatively closed society, thus preserving their language and cultural heritage.
Their churches and schools were designed to perpetuate the old world traditions of their ancestors. Occasionally
a sampler will appear with inscriptions in both English and German, such as that worked by Mary Ann Stauffer of
East Hempfield, Lancaster County.6 Catharine Stape's charming sampler is endowed with an amusing pictorial scene
of a tiny building with a plain entrance set within an entire wall of windows. The tree of feathery branches shades
a large figure of a woman in a peach-colored gown and a white silk bonnet. She carries a reticule and is walking
a reluctant little dog. Dominating the sampler format are immense paired birds, worked in crinkled floss; they
have been placed above the hearts that enclose the names of Catharine's parents. One of six children, Catharine
was born in 1821 to Bernard and Juliann (these are the spellings that appear in public documents, rather than the
spellings used on the sampler) Stape of Washington, Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. By 1830, the family had moved
to Maytown, East Donegal, Lancaster County, a village of twenty-five or thirty dwellings, stores, and taverns.
They became members of the Maytown Lutheran Church. It was probably in Maytown that Catharine attended a private
school for girls where she made this sampler.7
1. Catherine E. Hutchins, ed., Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans (New York, NY: W. W. Norton, 1983), 224, 226. See
also Ring, American Needlework Treasures, 42.
2. Krueger, Gallery of American Samplers, 73. See also Ring, American Needlework Treasures, 48.
3. Hutchins, Arts of the Pennsylvania Germans, 222, 228.
4. Danske Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown (Charlottesville, VA, 1910),99.
5. Ring, American Needlework Treasures, 46, 47, 48. See also Bolton and Coe, American Samplers, opp. 133. The sampler
illustrated was worked by Mary Hamilton in l\laytown, 1812.
6. Schiffer, Historical Needlework of Pennsylvania, 12, 13. See also The Pennsylvania Germans: a Celebration of
their Arts, 37, 38. The Stauffer sampler was in the Kapnek collection and is now in a private collection; see Krueger,
GaNery of American Samplers, 72.
7. Federal Census, Maytown, Pennsylvania, 1810, 1820, and 1830. See also Thomas F. Gordon, Gazetteer of the State
of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA, 1832), 288. See also J1aytown Lutheran Church Records, Maytown, PA. See also
Family Record Archives, Family History Library of the Church ofJesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City,
Edwin and Sheila Rideout, Wiscasset, Maine, September, 1981
Exhibited and Literature: LACMA, pp. 109-110, fig. 50
STEPHEN & CAROL HUBER
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