Embroidery: The Language of Art - Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library

Embroidery: The Language of Art


Open through June 2, 2017, in the Winterthur Galleries

Sketchbook,Ann Flower (1743-78), Graphite, ink, watercolor on laid paper Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 1753-60 Joseph Downs Collection of Manuscripts and Printed Ephemera, Winterthur Library Doc 1244
Sampler, "M.S." Delaware Valley; 1795 Silk on linen. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Special Fund for Collection Objects 1992.65

The definition of the word art has changed over time. From the late Middle Ages it referred to a skill acquired through knowledge and practice as well as the objects produced as a result of that skill, whatever the materials or techniques. In the 18th century a distinction began to be made between fine art, which included only painting, sculpture, and architecture, and applied or decorative art, defined as the design and decoration of more utilitarian objects, including embroidery. Today applied or decorative art is often called craft, another term whose meaning has changed over time.

This exhibition looks at how the creation of embroidered objects fits into the changing definitions of art, craft, and design throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

A needlework conference will be held October 14–15, 2016. Visit the conference web page for more information.


Image at top: Educated citizens in the early 1800s would have recognized Calliope, muse of eloquence and heroic poetry, and Clio, muse of history, in this work memorializing George Washington, whose image is portrayed on the easel. Sarah Skinner Ward, silk and tempera on linen needlework, 1810-13. Museum purchase with funds provided by the Special Fund for Collection Objects 1991.46

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