In December 2020, Fran Leudesdorf, President of the Manhattan Chapter, was contacted by Rebecca Klassen, Curator of Material Culture at the New-York Historical Society (NYHS), about a project to reproduce one of the samplers in the NYHS collection. The sampler, which is more than 200 years old, is of such historical significance that many other museums had contacted the NYHS about a loan. Given its delicate condition and light sensitivity, the NYHS was reluctant to loan out this valuable artifact and reached out to Fran to explore the possibility of reproducing the sampler with the idea that the reproduction be used for display at NYHS and other institutions.
Fran enlisted the assistance of Marge Kelly, then EGA Vice President and member of Skylands Stitchers Chapter (also in the Metropolitan Region) and Linda Mosch, also a member of Skylands Stitchers Chapter, for assistance with the project. While this team of three enthusiastically jumped into the project, the limitations imposed by COVID delayed many critical activities. Much information was amassed regarding the sampler’s history, including information about the stitcher and the school she attended. The NYHS remained shut down during the first several months and it wasn’t until July 2021 that the team was finally able to view the sampler in person. At that time the sampler was still mounted on conservation board, so only the front was visible. Preliminary notes of the linen and thread colors were made from this initial viewing. New high-resolution photos of the sampler front were forwarded to the EGA team by the NYHS; selection of threads and linens began in earnest. In September 2021 the EGA team was invited back to the NYHS to view the back of the sampler! Threads and linen were suggested by the EGA team to the NYHS staff who had the final approval.
Rosena Disery 1820 was stitched at the New York African Free School in New York City. It is stitched in silk on wool and measures 12 in. × 13 in. It was purchased by the New-York Historical Society in 2011. The central verse on the sampler is an excerpt of a poem by Madame Jeanne Guyon titled “Self-Love and Truth Incompatible” which was translated by William Cowper, a popular English poet and anti-slavery advocate. The verse is surrounded by Quaker-style motifs: baskets of fruit, flower urns, and vines. Student needlework was regularly exhibited at the African Free School’s public examination days as proof of the students’ accomplishments.
Rosena lived from 1805 to 1877 and prospered after graduation from the African Free School. By 1834 she was married to Peter Van Dyke, a successful Black cook and caterer, and Rosena worked in the family business. They became quite wealthy and were prominent figures in New York City’s Black community. They are buried in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery and a large obelisk marks their grave.
Charting of the sampler was done primarily through the use of the high-resolution photographs of both front and back. Model stitching by Linda helped in refining the sampler chart and the model was displayed “in progress” at the EGA 2022 Annual Seminar in New York City. Kits were also produced for two of the motifs to be worked as bookmarks, which were offered for sale at Seminar.
The model was completed and presented to the NYHS team in December 2022. It will be included in the NYHS exhibit Black Dolls when it travels to the Strong National Museum of Play (Rochester, NY) from September 23, 2023 to January 7, 2024, thus fulfilling the original goal of the NYHS. The New York Chapter is currently stitching a second reproduction for the NYHS as well as one for the EGA Collection.
A more detailed article regarding the Rosena Disery 1820 project will be published in a future issue of Needle Arts magazine. The chart for the sampler will be available for purchase through the EGA website.
The EGA team is grateful for the opportunity to take part in reproducing this important and beautiful sampler and bringing it to the attention of EGA’s membership. We are very appreciative of the assistance and support of the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library – Rebecca Klassen, Curator of Material Culture, Mark Schlemmer, Registrar for Collections, and Margi Hofer, Senior Vice President and Museum Director.
— Linda Mosch, Skyland Stitchers Chapter
Now available: Rosena Disery 1820 Sample Chart. This project and two separate bookmarks are available as downloadable charts that you may purchase. All proceeds benefit EGA’s mission and EGA’s Metropolitan Region.
Additional projects you can stitch from the sampler…
PDF Download: Honeysuckle Bookmark – Rosena Disery 1820
PDF Download: Wrapped Vine Bookmark – Rosena Disery 1820