Not that long ago, women were valued for not just their beauty, but their “accomplishments”. That term didn’t refer to earning a promotion or college degree at the time, but showing a capacity for a certain “womanly” skill set– things such as singing, playing music, dancing and embroidery– all thought to be the types of talents needed to be a successful hostess and therefore, appropriate for marriage. In her Samplers series, New York artist Clare Grill deconstructs these antiquated notions by reinterpreting and deconstructing embroidery samplers in paint.
Painting would have also been listed under the merits of “accomplishment”, a coincidence not lost on me or I’m sure on the artist. Samplers were originally just that– quick samples of stitches a needlewoman saw and admired. Then, as time went on, they became examples of proficiency and skill at needlework, a talent valued across the classes, though certainly more necessary for the lower.
Grill’s paintings retain some of the original sampler designs– the decorative borders, the notation of name, date and age. Yet I find it interesting in the way that these painted samplers are done in a much more abstract and naive style. Perhaps a nod to the exclusion of these girls and women from achieving more meaningful and intellectual pursuits.
All images are via the artist’s website.