Bed curtain done in polycrome wool crewel embroidery with a curvilinear floral and fruit design on a natural colored linen ground and with a shaped hem, attributed to Mary Ballantine Ashley (1744-1827). Mary was the daughter of the Reverend John Ballantine (1716-1776) and Mary Gay (b.1726) of Westfield, Massachusetts, and 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. This piece was purchased by Helen Geier Flynt in 1946 from a dealer. When the original valance of the bed hanging set appeared at auction in 2008, Historic Deerfield was able to purchase it to complete the ensemble (see HD 2008.3). A thorough examination has led to some fascinating 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 and charm that only wool can sustain.
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