Pole or fire screen with a painted and embroidered screen on a cream plain-weave silk ground, which was made by Sarah Hooker Leavitt (1797-1837), daughter of Judge Jonathan (1764-1830) and Emelia (Stiles) Leavitt (1762-1833) of Greenfield, Massachusetts, in 1810. She married Samuel Wells (1792-1864) of Deerfield in 1820, and died in Northampton, Massachusetts, where they settled and he was clerk of the court. Sarah's sister, Maria Holmes Leavitt (1798-1878), attended Deerfield Academy during the spring and summer terms of 1808 and 1809 where her family paid additional tuition for instruction in "either the Arts or Science" and she produced needlework and painted pieces. Sarah Leavitt created the pole screen either at the Misses Pattens' school in Hartford, Connecticut, or at Deerfield Academy under the tutelage of the Misses Pattens' former student Jerusha Mather Williams (1783-1844) before the Academy closed for a year-long renovation in April 1810. Sarah Patten (1761-1843) founded the school assisted by her sisters, Ruth and Mary, which lasted from 1785-1825. Jerusha Williams of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, was a student at the Misses Pattens' school around 1800, and taught a similar style of embroidery while the third Preceptress at Deerfield Academy during the summer and fall quarters from 1806 to 1812. Characteristics of work from the Pattens' school and found on this example include the oval composition beneath a spread-eagle and bordered by floral garlands and sheaths of wheat; gold sequins and gold metallic thread on raised motifs; tight, curvy leaves on bended tree trunks; and painted figures and their clothing. HD has another example of work attributed to the Misses Pattens' school - a painted coat of arms (2008.27). This embroidery depicts an allegorical, pastoral scene of three nymphs (alternatively, the three graces) tying Cupid to a tree and breaking his bow and arrows—an allegory for the rejection of temptation and preservation of virtue; the date "1810" is painted into cupid's quiver seen in the foreground; and "Sarah H Leavitts" is stitched into the bottom of the composition. This image of Cupid is adapted from a 1777 stipple engraving “Cupid Bound by Nymphs,” by English engraver, William Wynne Ryland (1732-1783), based on the painting, The Punishment of Cupid, by Swiss-Austrian artist, Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807). Most of the composition is painted following the design drawn either by the student, teacher, or a professional. With a small brush, Sarah laid thin lines of watercolor in multiple hues of blue and green to indicate the grassy foreground, and stippled dabs of color in the tree’s branches to render foliage, mimicking embroidery stitches. The house in the background, as well as the people up on the distant hill, may be abstracted. Couched, wrapped metallic (gold) thread is used at the top; around the edge of the roundel; for the rope binding Cupid; and Leavitt name at the bottom. The central medallion is surrounded by gold pailletes or sequins, and couched and twisted gold thread. The cherry pole stand is attributed to Daniel Clay (1770-1848) of Greenfield, Massachusetts, to whom is also attributed the pole stand made for the pole screen embroidered by the Leavitt's neighbor, Harriet Ripley (88.091) done in 1810, and another for Maria Holmes Leavitt made 1808-1809. Pole stands with embroidered screens such as this example were designed to both shield the face from the hot fireplace, as well as provide a way to show off the accomplishments of a daughter who had been sent to school to learn needlework. Sarah Leavitt is known to have attended Deerfield Academy in the spring and summer of 1808; tuition was paid on Sept. 5, 1808 ($4, for May 24th) and October 5th ($4.09, for July 20th). Dimensions of the framed needlework itself are 20.125" x 16.375".
Designed to protect the face from the heat of a fireplace, this pole or fire screen played an equally important role as an advertisement of refinement. The painted silk and metallic embroidery highlighted the skill of the student, Sarah Leavitt, and her instructor, Deerfield’s Jerusha Mather Williams (1783-1844), who probably drew the design for Leavitt. The completed watercolor and needlework also promoted the Leavitt family through their daughter’s refinement and artistic skill as well as their own financial ability to send her to an academy. Finally, the masterfully carved stand itself, made by the Leavitts’ neighbor, cabinetmaker Daniel Clay, enhanced the pictorial needlework’s display while trumpeting Clay’s own business in the Greenfield, Massachusetts, area.
After the American Revolution, increasing numbers of young women gained educations that included instruction in history, English, geography, botany, romance languages, drawing, painting and needle arts. Greenfield magistrate, Jonathan Leavitt (1764-1830), and his wife, Emelia Stiles Leavitt (1762-1833), sent their daughter, Sarah, either to the Misses Pattens' school in Hartford, Connecticut, or to Deerfield Academy, to study under Jerusha Mather Williams (1783-1844), a former student of the Misses Pattens, who served as Deerfield Academy’s preceptress from 1806 to 1812. In addition to tuition, the Leavitts purchased the silk cloth, metal-wrapped thread, metal pastilles (sequins) and embroidery floss Sarah used to execute her picture. When Sarah finished her project, they commissioned Greenfield cabinetmaker Daniel Clay to incorporate it into a decorative pole screen, adapting the form of the adjustable pole, or fire-screen (designed to shield a user’s face from the heat of the hearth or a stove). The fragile, expensive materials of Sarah’s picture ensured that her pole screen was enjoyed only for display. The extensive use of watercolor on silk in such fine condition makes the pole screen a rare survivor. For her subject, Sarah copied a 1777 stipple engraving, “Cupid Bound by Nymphs,” by English engraver William Wynne Ryland (1732-1783), based on Swiss-Austrian artist, Angelica Kauffman’s (1741-1807) painting, The Punishment of Cupid. The stand’s crisp turnings and reeded, vase-shaped shaft are similar to those of a candlestand, firescreen and bedstead at Historic Deerfield, all of which are attributed to Daniel Clay (1770-1848). Clay’s home and shop was located next to the Leavitt’s, on Greenfield’s Main Street.
allegory; classical antiquities
Link to share this object record: