Portrait of the Hutchinson Family (1806)

Curator's Choice tells the stories behind prized objects and artifacts from the collections of historical organizations and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania.

During the first decade of the nineteenth century, young women of affluent Philadelphia families enrolled in the school of Samuel and Ann Elizabeth Gebler Folwell to learn drawing and painting from Samuel, and advanced embroidery from his wife Ann. The Folwells encouraged talented pupils to undertake a silk needlework picture with intricate French knots and satin stitches as a final project. Proud parents usually mounted these completed pictures in handsome gilt frames and prominently displayed them in drawing rooms throughout Philadelphia.

Much of the silk needle art of the early nineteenth century reflected Americans’ interest in ancient Greece. Abundant with urns, follies, ruins, garden landscapes, statuary, swags, laurel wreaths, and women wearing Empire-style clothing, these embroideries recalled the arts of classical antiquity. To Americans of the Federal era, this distinctive neoclassical style epitomized ideals of refinement, sophistication, and elegance.

Family portraits were rarely subjects of embroidered pictures made by pupils of the Folwell school. However, Ann Hutchinson (1789-1848) may have been encouraged by the Folwells to embark on such an ambitious endeavor because of her skills. Made in 1806, Portrait of the Hutchinson Family is a silk satin weave with silk satin stitch and straight stitch embroidery, embellished with metallic sequins. While the seventeen-year-old student tackled the exacting and difficult needlework, Samuel Folwell, a gifted portraitist, painted the likeness of her family. In this exceedingly rare portrait, Ann Hutchinson (fifth from left) is surrounded by her parents, siblings, and grandmother.

Portrait of the Hutchinson Family was given to the Allentown Art Museum by Elizabeth M. Wistar in 1986. The museum holds an extensive collection of early and unusual textiles, many of them crafted, used, or owned by Pennsyl­vanians.

Founded in 1934, the museum is lo­cated at Fifth and Court Streets in center-city Allentown. For more information, write: Allentown Art Museum, P.O. Box 388, Allentown, PA 18105- 0388; or telephone (610) 432-4333.