Between the Lines: Innovation and Expression in Women’s Sewing Samplers at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College
Vassar College’s Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center presents the exhibition Between the Lines: Innovation and Expression in Women’s Sewing Samplers, on view April 15 through September 3, 2023.
Offering a fresh new look at a medium traditionally dismissed as “women’s work” and relegated to the category of “female accomplishment,” Between the Lines explores how women makers from across Europe and the Americas expressed creativity and individuality from within the confines of this formulaic medium.
From the Latin “exemplum,” samplers were developed by embroiderers and lace makers as “examples” of specific designs, stitches, and effects. Made from embroidered lines of colored thread on a white fabric ground, samplers were ubiquitous by the eighteenth century—with nearly every middle- and upper-class girl in the Western world producing at least two as part of her formal education. From Italy to South America and the Netherlands to Mexico, the sampler was a truly global art form. These colorful and intricate objects displayed a young girl’s skill in needlework, which was seen as a demonstration of her readiness to care for her future household and evidence of her literacy—and even of her moral virtue.
Drawn from the Loeb Art Center’s impressive collection of women’s sewing samplers—a collection numbering over 300 objects from North and South America and Europe—the exhibition also integrates important loans from the Locust Grove Estate in Poughkeepsie, New York. Over the course of two consecutive rotations occupying the Spotlight Gallery of the Loeb Art Center, Between the Lines features 14 different samplers from four different countries. Spanning the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s, the installation showcases visually similar samplers to demonstrate how young makers created variation within established patterns.
A collection of items used to plan and execute these objects—such as a hand-drawn embroidery pattern and a nineteenth-century sewing kit—illustrates the complexity, nuance, and mathematical formulas required by the craft. Such examples reveal how women needleworkers used the linear system of the sampler as a site of innovation, working “between the lines” of convention to express their individuality. In this way, the exhibition interrogates received histories of art and craft, offering new understandings of American and European art and visual culture and the position of women therein.
The exhibition was organized by the Loeb and Caroline Culp, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art History, with the assistance of Ida-Rose Chabon, Vassar Class of 2024. Support for In the Spotlight is provided by Mary Ellen Weisl Rudolph ’61, P’98 and James N. Rudolph P’98.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a richly illustrated educational pamphlet providing visitors with additional information on sampler history and resources to identify specific stitch types. It will be published by the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.
Exhibition Events (free and open to the public):
Pop-Up Embroidery Exhibition and Lecture Sunday, July 16
1:30 p.m., Locust Grove Estate, Poughkeepsie, NY
3:30 p.m., Curator’s Gallery Tour, the Loeb
Contact: Alison Hendrie, firstname.lastname@example.org, (914) 450-3340
Photo: Download high-resolution images from the Vassar College Media Relations’ Flickr site.
About the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is a teaching museum, free and open to the public, supporting the College’s educational mission and communities. Formerly the Vassar College Art Gallery, the Loeb is the first art museum at a college or university that was part of the institution’s original plan. Today, the permanent collection includes over 22,000 works, comprised of paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, textiles, and glass and ceramic wares. The Loeb strives to be a catalyst for scholarly, creative, and social justice work by Vassar students and others. Our undertakings reflect a commitment to broaden, and amplify, the voices represented in the museum setting, and to ensure that the Loeb’s programs and practices have a positive impact on our communities.
Commitment to DEAI
The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College commits to Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion (DEAI) as core values across its culture, systems, and practices. We pledge to allocate resources (human and financial) to create and sustain a museum culture in which difference is celebrated. The Loeb staff is dedicated to integrating DEAI priorities into gallery installations, programming, interpretation, collections management, acquisitions, and internal processes. Our ongoing work is guided by an intention to care for all people engaged with the Loeb while welcoming the exchange of ideas, enriching experiences, and diverse perspectives through art.
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free and all galleries are wheelchair accessible. The Loeb is now open to the public every day (except Monday) from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Loeb is located at 124 Raymond Avenue near the entrance to the Vassar College campus. Parking is available on Raymond Avenue. Directions to the Vassar campus in Poughkeepsie, NY, are available at vassar.edu/visit/tour#directions.
The Art Center is also accessible via the Dutchess County Public Transit, Bus Route L. For additional information, the public may call (845) 437-5632 or visit vassar.edu/theloeb.
We acknowledge that Vassar stands upon the homelands of the Munsee Lenape, Indigenous peoples who have an enduring connection to this place despite being forcibly displaced by European colonization. Munsee Lenape peoples continue today as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Wisconsin, the Delaware Tribe and the Delaware Nation in Oklahoma, and the Munsee-Delaware Nation in Ontario. This acknowledgment, however, is insufficient without our reckoning with the reality that every member of the Vassar community since 1861 has benefited from these Native peoples’ displacement, and it is hollow without our efforts to counter the effects of structures that have long enabled—and that still perpetuate—injustice against Indigenous Americans. To that end, we commit to build and sustain relationships with Native communities; to expand opportunities at Vassar for Native students, as well as Native faculty and other employees; and to collaborate with Native nations to know better the Indigenous peoples, past and present, who care for this land.
Vassar College is a coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.