A weeping willow tree shelters two lovely young women in a garden at the mansion this spring, and one would never know that these beautiful creatures, stitched in silk with exquisitely painted faces, are over two hundred years old. Thanks to recent conservation, however, they should continue to age gracefully.
One of two needlework mourning pictures in our collection, this one was made by Abigail Walker in memory of three babies who died between 1796 and 1803. One woman, probably their mother, sadly bends her head like a figure on a Greek funerary stele, and lovingly rests her hand on the urn that memorializes the children. The other figure points toward heaven and carries an anchor, a Christian symbol of hope—the “anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). The original verre églomisé frame survives.
Pictures like this one were made by well-to-do girls at “female academies” and were a genre of memorial artwork associated with 19th-century mourning rituals. Perhaps Abigail Walker was the sister of the three children named on the plinth. More research may reveal the school where this beautiful memorial was stitched, but it might have been located in Massachusetts. The skillfully executed faces were probably done by a professional artist.
Thanks to experts at the Textile Conservation Workshop in South Salem, New York, the delicate silk fabric has been repaired and the picture has been stabilized to prevent further damage. Now, after winding our way to the top of the mansion staircase, we can all stop to enjoy this particularly fine picture once again.
Margaret Highland, Museum Curator