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

Balch School sampler Providence, RI from Stephen and Carol Huber

Frances Mason Hodges (1803-1874)
Balch School sampler
Providence, RI, 1812

Silk thread on linen ground. Sight size: 11" W x 15-3/4" H. framed size: 14" W x 18-1/4" H. Original gold leaf frame with carved rope detail.

Mary Balch (1762-1831) is an important instructress from Providence, Rhode Island. In 1801 she opened a boarding school in her home which was well attended into the mid-1820s. Frances Mason Hodges's 1812 sampler belongs to a small group that features strawberry plants and a unique textural background surrounding the vine cartouche which proclaims: "Frances Mason Hodges' sampler, wrought at nine years of age, Providence January thirty first, one thousand eight hundred and twelve." The background is created by leaving most of the silk floss behind the canvas and occasionally bringing a stitch forward to create a tonal quality. The well-known verse featuring "Jesus permit thy gracious name to stand..." appears below a script alphabet on three lines. The sampler maker's aunt and uncle resided in Providence, possibly providing a place for her to stay while attending Mary Balch's school on George Street.

Frances, born 24 October 1803, was the daughter of James Hodges (born 1765) and Eleanor Bradish Cobb (born 1767) of Taunton, Massachusetts. Frances was the last of James' eight children. He had six with Eleanor and two with first wife Joanna Tillinghast. Mother Eleanor was the daughter of Major-General David Cobb of Revolutionary War fame. He was a judge during Shay's rebellion. The Hodges line came to America from England sometime between 1638 and 1643, settling at Taunton. Frances married Joseph Abial Wood, a lawyer, in 1825. The couple resided in Ellsworth, Maine where Joseph was a business associate of Colonial John Black, a very wealthy resident of Ellsworth. John Black had married the sampler maker's mother's sister and had a stately mansion, built in 1834-5.
Frances's husband Joseph, born in 1803, passed away in 1844, John Black's wife (and Frances's aunt) died in 1851. Frances, then at around age 49, married John Black who was 70 at the time. John then passed away four years later, leaving Frances as mistress of the mansion. Woodlawn, as it was known then, and is known today, is an historic museum and was featured in the January 2003 issue of The Magazine Antiques. A portrait of Frances Mason Hodges Wood Black hangs above a Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington on the wall of the main staircase. Frances passed away in 1874 at age 70. According to her obituary, she was a very compassionate and charitable person throughout her life.

The sampler is in fine condition, consistent with age. There is some thread loss in the sawtooth border and minor loss to some silk in the alphabet. Sampler is nailed to its original backing board with an acid-free board slipped between the backing board and sampler, and spacers keep sampler from touching the TruVue glass.
Provenance: Stephen & Carol Huber at the Mid-Week in Manchester Antiques Show, Manchester, NH, 2003; Campanelli Collection.


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