Rebecca Ann Kay

Rebecca Ann Kay

of Harrison, Gloucester County, New Jersey,
sampler attributed to Bristol Boarding School,
Bucks County, Pennsylvania, 1833

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sampler size: 17½” x 18¾” • framed size: 21¾” x 23” • price: $8500

A great flowering of samplermaking took place in Pennsylvania in the 1830s, with students at many seminaries, academies and boarding schools creating elaborate samplers that required skill at the upper end of the spectrum. This splendid sampler was worked by Rebecca Ann Kay in 1833 and it is an excellent example of this type of work – with many very beautiful, large blossoming flowers, an intricate bower of grape bunches, tendrils and leaves, bouquets made up of branches from flowering or fruiting plants and a precisely worked verse. While it is the strong composition and visually commanding elements that capture one’s eye, there are a number of delicate motifs and small details that also enhance the sampler’s excellent appeal, notably the four paired lovebirds, tiny and tightly worked baskets of flowers, the bowknots that tie the bouquets and geometric eight-pointed stars.

Rebecca’s sister, Esther B. Kay (1817-1896), younger than she by a year and a half, worked a very similar sampler, also in 1833 and this is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (see below). Notably, a third sampler is known to share the salient characteristics with the Kay sisters samplers and it names the school directly on the sampler - Bristol Boarding School. This sampler was made by Lydia Ann Walton in 1828 and is featured in our Spring 2003 catalogue (again, see below). These three works add nicely to the body of samplers known to have been produced in the fine schools of Pennsylvania.

Rebecca was born on April 24, 1816, the oldest of at least three children of Isaac Kay (1790-1845) and Mary (Sharp) Kay (1788-1851) who lived in Gloucester County, New Jersey. A trip to Bristol, Pennsylvania would have entailed use of the ferry to cross the Delaware River and this was indeed in operation at this location from the late 17th century on.

The Kay family in southern New Jersey began with John Kay (1656-1741), a Quaker who was born in Foolstone, Yorkshire, England. As a child, he emigrated to the colony of New Jersey with his parents and married in Pennsylvania in 1684. Generations later, by the time Rebecca was born, the family was not active in the Quaker community, however Isaac, Mary and two of their children are buried in the Mullica Hill Friends Cemetery. In 1852 Rebecca married William Waters, who served as constable in Harrison township intermittently. At age 39, on April 10, 1855, Rebecca died in childbirth.

The sampler is worked in silk on linen and is in excellent condition. It has been conservation mounted and is in its original mahogany corner block frame.

 (sampler by Rebecca Ann's sister, Esther B. Kay, 1833. Image courtesy of The Philadelphia Museum of Art, sampler in their collection)

 (similar sampler by Lydia Ann Walton, Bristol Boarding School, 1828. Image from our archives)

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