News Story

Needlework Exhibit Explores Domestic Skills and Cultural Symbols

SALT LAKE CITY —; A new exhibit at the Museum of Church History and Art explores the relationship between embroidery, cultural symbolism and the education of young women in early England and America. With Every Stitch: Historic and Contemporary Samplers and Needlework opens to the public on 16 November 2002. The exhibit will continue through 19 October 2003. Admission is free.

The colorful handwork includes a variety of visual motifs and texts that range from alphabets to genealogical registers, Latter-day Saint mottos, famous poems, favorite hymns and original poetry. "Many of these decorative textiles offer subtle messages with common symbolic elements that are stitched into them by their young makers," said guest curator Loree Romriell. "For example, a pair of facing birds represents harmony, especially within the family circle. A bouquet of flowers suggests friendship and love. Pine trees and butterflies are only two of many symbols used to represent immortality. Butterflies may also stand for resurrection, a new beginning; while a crown represents monarchy or eternity."

About 40 textiles from the museum's collections and private owners make up the exhibit's mix that includes some historic and contemporary masterworks. Pieces come from a variety of times, places and traditions. According to Romriell, "Before the 20th century, the education of most middle- and upper-class young women in England and America focused almost exclusively on domestic skills and the arts. Skilled embroidery was considered essential. Samplers were literally a 'sampling' of the quality and variety of a young woman's needlework. This handwork was evidence that the student had attained a certain level of practical skill."

Museum curator Marjorie Conder explained that needlework pieces have been and often continue to be prized possessions, passing most commonly from mother to daughter. "One of the samplers on display has passed through seven matrilineal generations," she said. "Several were brought to Utah by Latter-day Saint immigrants, among them a pair of samplers created by a mother and daughter, a generation apart."

Another historic piece was started by Patty Bartlett Sessions in Maine and finished in the old Salt Lake City Fort in 1848, forty years later. One of the oldest samplers on exhibit is a rare Dutch "spot sampler" dated 1804. Another piece was created in early Utah by 7-year-old Ellis Reynolds.

The exhibit includes several reproduction samplers, including a modern recreation of two 1840s Nauvoo Temple samplers stitched in England by sisters Jean and Ann Eckford. "Most replicas match the originals as closely as possible," Conder said. "Not only in size, fabric and color of thread, but they even preserve the mistakes in spelling or design."

Conder said that "in recent years there has been a resurgence in the creation of decorative needlework in many parts of the world." This growing interest is reflected in the exhibit with international pieces from the museum's collections representing Chile, Costa Rica, Norway and the former Yugoslavia.

Among the very fine examples of American contemporary needlework are those created by Latter-day Saint textile artists Marilyn McLean, Elaine Thatcher and Eileen N. Whitaker. "Pieces created during recent years," Conder said, "typically offer messages from Latter-day Saint history, belief or contemporary life. Sometimes they combine religious messages with the traditional alphabets and numbers of more traditional samplers."

The exhibit can be seen daily at 45 North West Temple Street in Salt Lake City, a half-block north of the Temple Square TRAX station. Museum hours are 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. weekdays and 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays and most holidays. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and Easter. Admission is free.

For information on exhibits, group tours and special events, call 801-240-3310 or check the museum's Web page at

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