Jane M. Huey, Mary Tidball School,

Jane M. Huey, Mary Tidball School,

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1840

The 2007 exhibition, Made in Pennsylvania: A Folk Art Tradition at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, documented well the samplers made at the school of Mary Tidball, between 1834 and 1854. Writing in the book of the same title, Harley N. Trice, informs us that, due to the quality and quantity of surviving works, the Mary Tidball School is the best known western Pennsylvania needlework school. Samplers made at this school, only 14 of which are known, are large, highly-stylized, and sometimes brightly colored; some contain the names of the students’ parents and/or instructor, Mary Tidball. Betty Ring, in Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers & Pictorial Embroideries 1650-1850 vol. II (Knopf, 1993), characterizes the samplers made at the Tidball School as including, big, bold flowers and exotic trees, stating that this striking group of large samplers was worked in Washington County during the final years of the schoolgirl needlework era.

Early Mary Tidball School samplers display a pale blue and green palette in a vertical composition. Beginning circa 1840 and continuing through 1854, the samplers were transformed, by Mary Tidball no doubt, and from 1840 forward were worked in a strong and clear color palette of bright reds, olive greens and pale blue. Dynamic, folky pictorial images including many huge birds, borders with enormous flowers and large veined leaves, hummingbirds, and, only very occasionally, large houses, became the focus. These exuberant pictorial elements, worked in merino wool, contrast nicely to the neat, small scale lettering of the inscriptions and verse, which were worked in silk. Tidball School samplers are widely considered to be the single most sought-after group of folky Pennsylvania samplers; Jane M. Huey’s sampler, worked in 1840, is a new discovery, unknown to Mr. Trice and Mrs. Ring.

The school was located next to the Presbyterian Church at Bethel Park, located in Peters Township, in the southern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Jane M. Huey informs us in her inscription that she was the daughter of William and Catharine Elizabeth Huey. Research has confirmed that she was born circa 1826 and lived in Peters Township throughout her life. She remained single and was active in the missionary society of Bethel Church. She resided with her uncle, James Huey as evidenced in census records. When Jane died in 1903, an obituary was published in The Presbyterian Banner, October 8, 1903 issue; Miss Huey was described as having led a life worthy of imitation, loyal to the work of her church and faithful to its missionary causes. A copy of this obituary accompanies the file of information that remains with the sampler.

Worked in wool and silk on linen, the sampler is in very good condition with some areas of weakness to the linen, now stabilized. It has been conservation mounted and is now in a maple and mahogany frame.

Sampler size: 17½” x 24¼”      Frame size: 22¼” x 29”