Watercolor on silk, "Liberty"

Watercolor on silk, "Liberty"

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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.
This oval picture of Liberty is a watercolor on silk. (Not embroidered.) The only needlework involved was the attaching of the purl and spangles. Liberty's dress and hairdo are Empire style. In her right hand is a staff on which flies the American flag, with 18 stripes, nine blue and nine white and sixteen stars. A hat-like object atop of the flag staff possibly represents the “liberty cap.” In her left hand Liberty holds a cornucopia upside down with pears, cherries, grapes, apples, peaches, and melons spilling out. To the left in the background is the town of South Hadley, Massachusetts, with churches, houses, and trees. In the right background are clouds and mountains that may be symbolic of the vastness of the country. The oval picture of Liberty is framed by two rows of purl with two rows of spangles in between. The outer border is of flowers, vines, and ribbon bows. An outside border is the same purl and spangles as the inner border, between which is the flower border. It is worked on ivory silk faille.
A cap was awarded to ancient Roman freed slaves and it became the symbol of liberty to Americans during the Revolutionary War period. The upended cornucopia means prosperity, or in America, the land of plenty. The depiction of the town is found on other embroideries stitched at Abby Wright’s school in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
Currently not on view
Object Name
silk picture
date made
ca. 1800
place made
United States: Massachusetts, South Hadley
Physical Description
silk (ground material)
metal (purl material)
silver (spangles material)
overall: 16 3/8 in x 13 1/4 in; 41.5925 cm x 33.655 cm
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Eleanor and Mabel Van Alstyne
See more items in
Cultural and Community Life: Textiles
Embroidered Pictures
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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