By Kate Webber, ’17

Sampler

Sampler, red & blue darning, n.d., linen, cotton, L: 15.75 x W: 13.75 in. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Donor: DeVere Card, N0020.1955. Photograph by Richard Walker.

In February, 1955, DeVere Card of Hamilton, N.Y. donated a darning sampler to the New York State Historical Association (NYSHA). There is no record of why he brought it to NYSHA;  he may have had friends there, or thought the sampler had some connection to the Cooperstown-based organization. A decade earlier, he had donated some farming equipment and a cobbler’s knee vice. Fortunately, we do know something of Devere Card’s career and interests. The small act of donating a sampler tells us more about him, as Card’s life tells us more about the sampler.

The sampler in question is stitched with cotton threads on bleached linen, and is about the size of a tea towel. It is decorated with a three-by-three grouping of small, intricate rug-like designs in blue, red, and white. These miniature carpets are demonstrations of skill in darning—a sewing technique used to repair fabric or knitting.

Devere Card 2It is a “sampler” because this was likely a schoolgirl project; the sewer created samples of the different patterns and techniques she mastered.[1] Certain sections are created not by adding threads, but by artfully removing them—a technique called “cutwork” that creates a lacy effect. The result is both a practical learning tool and a visually pleasing piece to show with pride. This style was common to mid-state New York, and was likely made between 1800 and 1820.[2]

Devere Card 1DeVere Card’s possession of the sampler makes some sense—he was a “legendary American antiques dealer” from the 1920s until his death in 1980.[3] He was known both in the antiques field and among scholars, referenced in books noting his fine collections and his frequent expeditions to view New York State Dutch barns.[4] Card was considered the father of burl collectors, and published a catalog on the subject (a burl treen is a wooden bowl formed from a knotty growth on a tree)[5]. His name meant quality, and burl pieces that he had owned are still considered especially desirable.[6]

How does a schoolgirl’s graceful darning sampler fit into the picture of this antiques dealer who specialized in the solid, traditionally masculine artistic expressions of barns and wooden bowls? Card recognized good work when he saw it, regardless of the form it took. He specialized in functional objects that were nevertheless created with an aim for artistic beauty. In donating this darning sampler to an organization that would preserve it for the benefit of the public, he was perhaps recognizing the role of women’s work in both industry and art.

 

[1] Lynne Anderson.  Samplers International: A World of Needlework, 2nd edition (Eugene: Sampler Consortium, 2011).

[2] New York State Historical Association record of a survey by Rabbit Goody, Nov. 29, 2001.

[3] Steven S. Powers. North American Burl Treen: Colonial & Native American. Steve Powers, 2005. 8.

[4] John Fitchen and Gregory D. Huber. The New World Dutch Barn: The Evolution, Forms, and Structure of a Disappearing Icon. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2001. Xvii

Stephen V. Grancsay. American Engraved Powder Horns: A Study Based on the J. H. Grenville Gilbert Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Jan 1, 1946

[5] DeVere A. Card. “The use of burl in America.” Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, 1971.

[6] Powers, 8.

Photographs of DeVere Card: Powers, Steven S. North American Burl Treen.

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