Memorial to George Washington

After a young lady learned to embroider a sampler, she might attend a female academy to make a silk embroidered picture. This was a more challenging technique that became popular in the early 1800s. Subjects included classical, biblical, and historical scenes, as well as mourning pictures. The death of George Washington gave impetus to this new fad of the mourning picture. It included an assortment of plinth, urn, mourners, and trees in a garden setting.
This oval embroidered memorial to George Washington features an urn-topped plinth. The urn is inscribed "GW" and the inscription on the plinth is "SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF THE ILLUSTRIOUS WASHINGTON." To the left of this group are two weeping willow trees with crossed trunks. On the far right are two poplar trees beyond a small pond. Overhead is an angel with a trumpet and a laurel wreath. The willow tree is a symbol of mourning and sorrow, as well as a tree that drains the ground of water, thereby keeping the site dry. The angel, trumpet, and laurel wreath would signify the deceased being summoned by the trumpet of the archangel to wear the victor’s crown. The garden is a symbol of the Resurrection and everlasting hope. Designed by Samuel Folwell, it was probably worked at his wife Elizabeth's school for young ladies in Philadelphia. Folwell traveled down the East Coast painting portraits and may have drawn this design for girls to embroider in one of several southern cities; it was a popular design and many examples of this same embroidered composition still exist. In addition, the design was copied by other artists and stitchers, in somewhat less polished versions. This example appears to have been painted (heads, hands, etc.) by Folwell himself. This picture is worked on a plain-weave ivory silk ground with silk embroidery threads. The stitches used are long and short, chain, satin, stem, and French knot.
The embroiderer is unknown.
Currently not on view
Object Name
silk picture
Physical Description
silk (ground material)
silk (thread material)
overall: 21 1/2 in x 27 5/8 in; 54.61 cm x 70.1675 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Embroidered Pictures
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Textiles
Embroidered Pictures
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Eleanor and Mabel Van Alstyne
Ring, Betty. Girlhood Embroidery, American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework
Additional Media

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