Laura Hyde American
Not on view
In 1800 thirteen-year-old Laura Hyde made the rather surprising choice to embroider a scene of a Turkish harem onto this needlework sampler. Hers is one of three similar samplers made by girls from the neighboring towns of Franklin and Norwich, Connecticut (the other two are in private collections). The related samplers all have similar motifs, and some include large sailing ships and views of foreign lands, such as Laura’s scenes with "India Within the Ganges" and the "Bay of Bengal." While these views may have derived from prints or illustrated books, common sources of inspiration for teachers and students of needlework, Laura’s scene of the harem on the lower right is unique, not based on any known print. It illustrates Letter 33 in the published correspondence of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), one that she wrote to her sister the Countess of Mar, from Adrianople, Turkey. Lady Mary traveled to Turkey in 1716, when her husband, Edward Wortley Montagu, was appointed the English ambassador there. In the letter, she describes her visit to the harem of the "kayha’s lady," the "gloriously beautiful" Fatima, the lady of a high-ranking official. In Laura’s embroidery the scene unfolds as described: Lady Mary and "the Greek lady" (her interpreter), under a large umbrella, are escorted into the tent of the harem. There they walk "between two ranks of beautiful young girls" to "a sofa, raised three steps, and covered with fine Persian carpets," where they meet Fatima and her two young daughters.
Why did scenes of Turkey and India appeal to young Laura Hyde as subjects for embroidery? One of the ships in her rendition of the Bay of Bengal flies an American flag. The sampler was made not long after the commencement of direct American trade with India in 1784, and Norwich, a shipping town north of New London on the Thames River, likely benefited from this connection. This schoolgirl’s sampler reminds us that trade facilitated the new United States’ arrival on the world stage. In addition, the turn of the nineteenth century saw a greater emphasis on the intellectual education of girls, and who could have been a better role model for a young woman than the glamorous, literate, and adventurous Lady Mary?
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