Isaac Gorham Memorial

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 mourning embroidery by Mary Gorham was dedicated to her father, Capt. Isaac Gorham. The pastoral image shows a woman approaching an urn on a plinth that rests beneath a three-branched weeping willow. The large gold urn, outlined in brown and garlanded with flowers, carries on its marble-simulated silk embroidered pedestal the inked inscription: "Cap.t Isaac / Gorham born / Feb.y 15 . 1747 . died / Aug.t. 13. 1795. aged / 48." The young woman, in a white Regency costume with a brown bow, stands to the right of the urn. Her bonnet is completed in black ink; her features and curls are inked in brown; one arm is outlined in graphite, and the other is barely visible behind a willow branch. The picture is in the original gold leaf frame, and the glass is reverse-painted in black, with gold leaf motifs in each corner and a 1/4" gold rim around the oval mourning picture with the maker's name, "M. GORHAM," at the bottom. It is stitched on a plain weave ivory silk ground with silk embroidery threads. The stitches are seed, lazy daisy, straight, satin, and outline.
This example includes the typical objects found in mourning embroideries: a garden, weeping willow trees, a woman in mourning, and an urn on a plinth. 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. Capt. Isaac Gorham was a mariner and he died at sea.
Mary Gorham was born December 10, 1791, to Isaac and Sarah Thomas Gorham in Bristol, Rhode Island. She married Rev. John P. K. Henshaw(1792-1852) on July 19, 1814. They had eleven children: John Kewley (1815-1843), Alexander (1817-1854), Mary Gorham (1819-1888), William Milnor (1820-1850), Rev. Daniel (1822-1908), Charles Henry (1825-1825), Elizabeth W. (1826-1826), I. Gorham (1828-1828), Charles Henry (1830-1910), Richmond (1833-1890), and Sarah (1831-1832). Mary died September 26, 1881, in Bristol, Rhode Island. See her older sister Jemina Gorham’s sampler.
Currently not on view
Object Name
embroidered picture
date made
ca 1805
Gorham, Mary
Physical Description
silk (overall material)
linen (overall material)
overall: 15 in x 9 1/2 in; 38.1 cm x 24.13 cm
place made
United States: Rhode Island, Bristol
ID Number
accession number
catalog 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
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