Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Embroidered Chair Back

Mehitable Starkey (born 1739)
Made in Boston, Massachusetts, United States
Linen embroidered with wool and silk threads
32 x 25 in. (81.3 x 63.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Philip Holzer, 2003
Accession Number:
Not on view
This piece of needlework is a panel made in Boston about 1760 by Mehitable Starkey and passed down in her family until purchase at auction by Ann and Philip Holzer. Unlike most Boston needlework pictures, which tend to be horizontal in composition, this piece is a tall vertical panel, with two discrete scenes placed one above the other: the top scene shows three people harvesting grain; a woman at the center holds a sickle aloft, while a man at her right cuts the wheat and a man at her left bundles it. The lower scene depicts a landscape with two reclining deer flanking a leaping deer. In the background are a group of brick dwellings and a windmill.

Because of the unusual composition, Mr. Holzer surmised that, rather than a picture to be framed and displayed on a wall, the panel was intended to cover the outer back of an easy chair. He came to this conclusion after studying the Museum's spectacular Newport easy chair of 1758 (50.228.3), covered with its original wool flame-stitch embroidery except for the outer back, which is decorated with a charming pastoral scene of leaping deer and a shepherd and his flock. This panel was clearly made by a young woman who studied needlework at a Boston school. Although the chair frame was made in Newport, the needlework is characteristic of embroideries identified with Boston teachers. The needlework back panel on the easy chair and Mr. Holzer's panel are about the same size, and both designs are most likely drawn from similar sources. Boston needlework pictures from the period were usually completed in either tent or satin stitch. That the panel on the easy chair is in satin stitch and Mr. Holzer's is in tent stitch cannot obscure the amazing similarities of these two extremely rare upholstery masterpieces.
Descended in the maker's family until purchased by the Holzers at an auction at Christie's, New York, on October 23, 1993. It was Lot 157 in the "Important American Furniture, Folk Art and Decorative Arts" auction.
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