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Sotheby's New York to offer schoolgirl embroidery from the Betty Ring Collection
Rare and Important Needlework Sampler, Mary Antrim, Burlington Country, New Jersey, Dated 1807. Est. $80/120,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, N.Y.- Sotheby’s New York announces that it will offer schoolgirl embroidery from the collection of Betty Ring in a dedicated sale on 22 January 2012. Mrs. Ring is the foremost scholar and collector of American schoolgirl embroidery – superb needlework samplers, elegant pictorial embroideries and mourning pictures made in the earliest American cities and towns by the daughters of the prosperous ‘entrepreneurial’ elite. Important American Schoolgirl Embroideries: The Landmark Collection of Betty Ring consists of a comprehensive group of approximately 175 examples, assembled by Mrs. Ring starting in the 1960s, with pieces from all regions, periods and forms. The sale will be on exhibition in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries during Americana Week in New York, beginning 14 January.

“Betty Ring was amongst the first serious scholars and collectors in our field who recognized the importance of American schoolgirl embroidery as a body of work,” commented Nancy Druckman, Head of Sotheby’s Folk Art department in New York. “Her numerous publications, exhibitions and lectures did much to increase the public’s awareness of this important and unique American art form. Betty’s collection, which we are honored to present at auction in January, is the fruit of her tireless and inspired research, as well as her connoisseur’s eye for beauty.”

From the late-17th through the mid-19th centuries, the rising merchant class in America had the financial resources, aspirations and determination to have their young daughters receive the best education – both in the standard subjects of the school curriculum, as well as mastering needle and thread. From Boston and New England, to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and the South, these girlhood embroideries have become treasured family heirlooms – vibrant and evocative examples of American decorative and folk art and, most especially, rare documents of women’s education in America.

Through her studies of the young girls who made these remarkable pieces, as well as their teachers, Betty Ring was able to discern and document the distinctive regional styles in which they were created. Her personal collection is remarkably complete, comprising excellent examples across the art form.

A Rare and Important Needlework Sampler by Mary Antrim is dated 1807, and belongs to an important, recently recognized group made by girls of Burlington County, New York (est. $80/120,000*). A Rare and Important Needlework Sampler by Matilda Filbert in Wolmesdorf, Pennsylvania is dated 1830, and its composition is a nave interpretation of an Edward Savage drawing (est. $50/75,000). The piece was at Sotheby’s New York in 1981, as part of the earliest sales of American samples: The Collection of Theodore Kapnek. From Providence, Rhode Island, a Rare and Important Needlework Sampler by Nabby Dexter is dated 1785, and is the earliest-known example of the most enduring style from Mary Balch’s school (est. $30/40,000).

Mourning pictures in the collection – commemorative pieces that honored deceased heroes or loved ones – will be led by a Rare and Important Embroidered and Painted Silk Mourning Picture: Sacred to the Memory of George Washington, which was likely done in Boston circa 1815 (est. $50/100,000). Elements from two Washington memorial prints may be recognized in the composition: Pater Patriae, engraved by Enoch G. Gridley after a now-lost painting by John Coles, Jr., and John James Barralet’s Apotheosis of Washington. In addition, the collection includes a Rare and Important Embroidered and Painted Silk Mourning Picture by Betsey Clarke of Miss Patten’s School, Hartford, Connecticut, circa 1809 (est. $50/75,000).

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