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[AC] Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; [HC] Hampshire College Art Gallery;
[HD] Historic Deerfield; [MH] Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; [MH SK] The Joseph Allen Skinner Museum at Mount Holyoke College; [SC] Smith College Museum of Art; [UM] University Museum of Contemporary Art at UMASS Amherst


Maker(s):Ely, Eliza
Culture:American (1794-1836)
Title:needlework: mourning picture
Date Made:1807
Materials:textile: off-white silk satin; polychrome silk embroidery threads; unbleached linen; guoache; wood; glass
Place Made:United States; Massachusetts; South Hadley (probably)
Measurements:framed: 20 x 18 1/4 in.; 50.8 x 46.355 cm
Accession Number:  HD 2003.8
Credit Line:John W. and Christiana G.P. Batdorf Fund

Framed embroidered and gouache-colored mourning picture inscribed on the back "? Eliza Ely 1807" in black ink. Another mourning picture (HD 2010.10) also done by Eliza Ely in 1807 is inscribed on the lower left "Saybrook" and on the lower right "Eliza Ely No.[?] 2." In both examples, the painted figures are very similar, especially the women's faces and dress (the latter varies in hair/hat styles and neck/fichu covering). It is rare to find two such similar mourning pieces wrought by the same student, and gives some indication of output at a school teaching needlework to girls in the Connecticut River Valley. There are two contemporary Eliza Ely's of Saybrook. This piece is probably by Eliza Maria Ely (1794-1836) the daughter of Doctor Richard Ely (1765-1816) of Saybrook, Connecticut, and Eunice Bliss originally of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, and the grandaughter of Rev. Richard Ely (1733-1814) of Saybrook and Jerusha Sheldon (1737-1797), the daughter of Benjamin Sheldon of Northampton, Massachusetts. Before attending the Abby Wright school, Eliza attended Miss Sarah Pierce's Litchfield Female Academy in 1806 and 1807. At the Litchfield school is perhaps where Ely learned more basic, counted thread embroidery before undertaking a more ambitious mourning picture. Eliza Ely married a cousin Elihu Ely, M.D. (1780-1851), and they moved to Birmingham, NY. The other, less likely option is Elizabeth Ely (1798-1835) of Saybrook the daughter of Zelophehad Ely and Elizabeth Marvin Sterling, who married John Reed Babcock (1788-1836) of Preston, Connecticut, in 1815. Before finding the Saybook inscription on the second mourning picture, this piece was thought to be by Elizabeth Ely (1790-1872), the daughter of Deacon Nathaniel Ely (1751-1808) of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and Elizabeth Raynolds (1759-1841) of Somers, Connecticut, who married Elisha Taylor (1786-1861) and moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Eliza Ely was probably attending the Abby Wright school in South Hadley. Born in Wethersfield, Connecticut and raised in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Abby Wright (1774-1842) attended Westfield Academy in 1800-1801, and opened her own school in South Hadley in 1803. By 1804, she was such a success that is was difficult to find housing for all her students. Her teaching ended when she married Peter Allen (1764-1848) in 1809; her half-sister, Sophia Goodrich, took over the school, which appears to have continued at least through 1811. Institutions like Wright's taught girls accomplishments like needlework in preparation for their future roles as wives and mothers. By the early 19th century, mourning pictures constituted a major product for New England schools teaching needlework. The genre
increased in popularity after the death of George Washington (1732–1799); families adapted the subject of remembrance to commemorate their own members, past, present and future. As in
this example, spaces were often left blank at the time of a mourning picture’s completion, to be filled in upon the passing of a loved one. Each school developed and taught a specific style of picture that incorporated favored stitches and arrangement of composition. The piece has a tall urn flanked by two smaller urns with covers on plinths, each embellished with metallic thread; on a large coffin-shaped watercolored stone that has not been filled in with names and dates; a man and woman in black (also in watercolor) on either side; and a large willow and other trees in the background. The metallic thread is a type of silver thread made from flat silver wire that has been twisted over a thin square rod; when the rod is removed, the remaining coil has sharp corners and flat sides that catch the light. The wooden frame, which appears to be original, has a twisted, turned and gilt insert applied to one of the convex surfaces. The Smithsonian Institution has a 1809 embroidery from South Hadley with a nearly identical frame.

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