Polly Carter, Canterbury School,

Polly Carter, Canterbury School,

Boscawen Township, New Hampshire, 1800
Provenance: Collection of Susan B. Swan

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sampler size: 12½” x 13” • framed size: 14¾” x 15¼” • sold

Polly Carter worked this sampler in 1800 and it belongs to the highly regarded group that is widely referred to as the Bird and Basket Samplers of Canterbury, New Hampshire, a group that has been researched and appreciated for many years. An exhibition entitled Lessons Stitched in Silk: Samplers from the Canterbury Region of New Hampshire, at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art in 1990, included 33 samplers, from relatively simple examples to outstanding, fully developed ones, with the characteristic hillocks, flowers, trees, birds and baskets. Quite notably, Polly’s sampler was included in this exhibit, as #11 in the catalogue.

The makers of these samplers lived in the Merrimack Valley, in towns such as Canterbury, Loudon, Sanbornton and Gilmanton, located along the Merrimack River. While they likely attended a few different schools, the shared composition and technique produced an aesthetic that endured for over 40 years.

Significantly, this sampler was in the personal collection of the late Susan B. Swan for many years and then was passed onto her son until just recently. Mrs. Swan was the long-term curator of textiles and needlework at Winterthur Museum and author of Plain & Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework 1650-1850 (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1977). Information that accompanied the sampler when it was purchased by Mrs. Swan provided specifics about the maker and research allowed for much more detail.

Polly Carter was born on January 27, 1787 to Daniel and Mary (Atkinson) Carter. The History of Boscawen & Webster New Hampshire From 1733 to 1878 by Charles Carelton Coffin provides information on both the Atkinson and Carter sides of the family. Daniel Carter (1759-1840) was the son of Winthrop Carter, a prominent landowner and innkeeper in Boscawen. Daniel served in the Revolutionary War in the battles of Bennington, Stillwater and Saratoga. Polly married in 1816, at age 29 and, according to notes, may have been a teacher prior to that.

Her husband, John Simpson Osborn (1786-1818) of nearby Loudon was from a highly regarded and long established family of potters, documented in an article, The Osborns and Their Redware From South Danvers, Massachusetts to Loudon, New Hampshire by Madeline Osborne Merrill (Old-Time New England, 1965). In 1813 John bought the family homestead and property from Daniel Carter (his future father-in-law) and erected a pottery on the property where his business prospered. He married Polly, on October 1, 1818. Sadly, just two years later, he died of typhus fever. Polly gave birth to their only child, a daughter, after his death. Polly did not remarry and died in Boscawen in 1856.

The sampler is signed, “Polly Carter her sampler wrought in the year AD 1800,” just above the pictorial register. While some of colors used are more pale than others, an image of the reverse indicates that the colors are very close to their original strength. The baskets with wonderful flowers springing up, the birds in flight and the shaded hillocks that ground the bottom of the scene are all excellent representations of the classic Canterbury patterns.

Worked in silk on linen, the sampler is in very good condition with some loss to the silk. It has been conservation mounted and is in a molded and black painted frame.

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