One section of a crewel embroidery valance worked in polycrome wool yarns in a curvilinear floral and fruit design on a natural colored linen ground and with a shaped hem. Purchased at Skinner's in Boston, the piece came with an old typed exhibition card: "1733-1933 SHEFFIELD / Loaned by Mary A. Durlack / Piece of valence [sic] embroidered by Mary Balentine who married General John Ashley." Mary Ballantine Ashley (1744-1827) was the daughter of the Reverend John Ballantine (1716-1776) and Mary Gay (b.1726) of Westfield, Massachusetts. Mary was the second wife of General John Ashley (1736-1799) of Sheffield, whom she married in 1769 in Westfield. General John Ashley was the son of Judge (or Colonel) John Ashley (1709-1802) of Sheffield (house in the Ashley Falls Historic District); who was the son of John Ashley (1669-1759) and his second wife, Mary Whiting Sheldon (d.1735), the widow of Joseph Sheldon (1668-1708); and the cousin of the Reverend Jonathan Ashley (1712-1780) of Deerfield. Other pieces (HD F.270A and HD F.106) of this set of bed hangings were purchased by Helen Geier Flynt in 1946 from a dealer, which were attributed to Mary Ballentine Ashley. However, the valances were missing from the set; when this original valance appeared at auction, Historic Deerfield was able to purchase it to complete the ensemble. A thorough examination has led to some speculation as to the origin of the design. It is possible that the largest surviving section may have been imported as part of a ‘kit,’ with the design drawn on the linen and the colored wools furnished by the same company. “Kits” were developed in England in the 1660s for silk embroideries, which were part of refined women’s education. Wool was used for hangings such as this because it could be dyed in brilliant colors using only vegetable sources. Although the colors are somewhat faded after many washings and years of display, there is still a vibrancy that only wool can sustain.
Colorfully embroidered bed curtains and valances provided warmth and beauty to 18th-century New England bedchambers. This shaped valance is part of a set attributed to Mary Ballantine of Westfield, Massachusetts, who probably made it on the occasion of her 1766 wedding to General John Ashley (1736-1799) of Sheffield, Massachusetts. The skills Mary learned as a young girl while making samplers and pictorial needlework prepared her for such an ambitious undertaking as an adult, which included drawing the design on linen, and embroidering a meandering floral and vine pattern using a variety of stitches.
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