George Washington

By the 1840s a new technique [in the field] of needlepoint known as Berlin wool work was the rage. It arose in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century. New dyes became available and brightly colored wools could be worked in tent stitch on canvas. The patterns were painted by hand on “point paper,” which today would be called graph paper. Some of the patterns were copies of famous paintings.
This large Berlin wool work picture of George Washington is based on an original painting by Gilbert Stuart. The stitches used are half cross stitch and tent stitch with the face and hands worked in petit point. It is framed in a gold-leafed wooden frame with applied gold leaf corner decorations and an American eagle at the center of the top. The glass has a reverse-painted black mat with the embroiderer's name, school, and date and the subject of the picture in gold leaf across the bottom: "ELIZA J McCLENAHAN WASHINGTON St. JOHN'S ACADEMY." 1871.
The painting contains many symbols. The dress sword instead of a battle sword indicates a democratic form of government, and the pen and paper on the table signify the rule of law. The leg of the table is shaped like a fasces which is an ancient Roman symbol of power and authority.
Eliza was born November 1854, in Washington, District of Columbia, to James and Margaret Mc Clenahan. Her parents came to the United States from County Galway, Ireland, in a sailboat that took three weeks. Eliza was the oldest of five daughters and one son. She attended St. John’s Academy on Valley St. in Baltimore and studied canvas work and painting. Eliza taught school in Baltimore until her marriage to Michael J. Hook in 1882. They had five children: James, Robert, Margaret and Mary (twins), and Regina. Eliza died in July 1936.
Currently not on view
Object Name
embroidery, picture
date made
McClenahan, Eliza J.
Physical Description
wood; gold leaf (frame material)
glass, paint, gold leaf (glass material)
probably wool and silk on cotton ground (embroidered picture material)
overall: 52 in x 42 1/2 in; 132.08 cm x 107.95 cm
place made
United States: Maryland, Baltimore
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
Bequest of Margaret E. Hooke

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