"Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night"

Maker: Dora Wheeler (1856–1940)

Maker: Associated Artists (1883–1907)

Date: 1886

Geography: Made in New York, New York, United States

Culture: American

Medium: Silk embroidered with silk thread

Dimensions: 45 x 68 in. (114.3 x 172.7 cm)

Classification: Textiles

Credit Line: Purchase, Sylvia and Leonard Marx Gift and funds from various donors, 2002

Accession Number: 2002.230


This large-scale embroidery is thought to be the sole remaining example of what Wheeler called "needlewoven tapestry." As early as 1880, she and her associates were producing these subtly embroidered works that were as carefully modulated as paintings. In 1882, Candace Wheeler had patented the technique, in which stitches are passed in and out of the web of a loosely woven silk canvas (also patented by Wheeler), giving the appearance of a traditionally woven tapestry. Candace's daughter, Dora, created this design of Odysseus' faithful wife Penelope while studying painting in Paris and designed numerous other needlewoven tapestries depicting female figures from literature; most of them, however, have completely disintegrated. Although this piece has substantially faded and the fibers have begun to break, the essential image remains intact.