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Needlework from Hunterdon County, New Jersey

Lita Solis-Cohen | May 12th, 2013


When Dan Campanelli sold his Halloween collection at Noel Barrett’s in 2003, he said that he and his wife, Marty, were changing the direction of their collecting. Now we know that their next passion was samplers. When they bought an old house in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, they narrowed their focus to Hunterdon County samplers and launched an intensive research project.

Their new book, A Sampling of Hunterdon County Needlework: the motifs, the makers & their stories, published by the Hunterdon County Historical Society, is the first book on schoolgirl needlework to focus on a single county and the first book on New Jersey needlework. There have been articles and exhibitions on New Jersey needlework and needlework from a single county, often without a catalog. Articles about these shows are often published in obscure historical society bulletins or in magazines; many of them are noted in the bibliography.

Betty Ring, the researcher and collector who made schoolgirl needlework an academic discipline, acknowledged a few New Jersey needlewomen in her two-volume landmark study Girlhood Embroidery (1993), but the Campanellis open a window into life in a 19th-century farming area in western New Jersey through the lives of 74 young needlewomen and their teachers that has not been done before. Moreover, their book introduces the vocabulary of motifs, thus enabling attributions.

The book is well organized. The authors tell enough of the history of American samplers to show where Hunterdon samplers fit into the big picture of American needlework, which has been written about since 1921 when Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnson Coe wrote a book on American samplers, published by the Colonial Dames of Boston. Betty Ring inspired many, including Gloria Seaman Allen, who wrote the foreword to this book and is the author of  Columbia’s Daughters: Girlhood Embroidery from the District of Columbia and A Maryland Sampling: Girlhood Embroidery 1738-1860. Allen points out that the Campanellis’ study “reflects movement and transference of sampler styles as teachers and their students sought fresh beginnings in the expanding new republic.” The authors suggest that some Hunterdon motifs traveled west.

The Campanellis make untangling family histories seem like an adventure. Their aim was to find out exactly where a piece of needlework was stitched. They began their research in earnest when they did a presentation for the Hunterdon County Historical Society on the four samplers in the society’s collection and found that only one was made in Hunterdon County.

Following the presentation, Hunterdon residents began asking the Campanellis to research local samplers, and they began their pursuit of samplers made in Hunterdon County by going on the Internet, checking dealers’ catalogs and auctions, and building an archive. Most Hunterdon samplers had been cataloged as Delaware Valley or ­Pennsylvania, but the family names were Hunterdon County names. Soon a pattern of motifs emerged; the recumbent deer with a collar, an angled heart, an open book with a heart inside, and a funky red lion were considered Hunterdon County motifs.

They found that some of the wealthy merchants and farmers sent their daughters to the Moravian school in Bethlehem or to Westtown, the Quaker boarding school in Chester County, and they noted those schools’ influence on needlework designs. Pointing out that there were female academies in Trenton, Pennington, Lambertville, and Flemington, New Jersey, they also suggest that some local instructors did not advertise, such as Amy Londe (Lundy), Elizabeth Wyckoff, and the “MERT Instructress,” whose names are stitched on embroideries from Hunterdon County.

In 1838 the towns of Hopewell, Ewing (Trenton), and Lawrence, New Jersey, were redistricted from Huntingdon to Mercer County, named for Hugh Mercer, a physician/soldier who died from wounds received in the Battle of Princeton in January 1777. The Campanellis have included a chapter on samplers made in these areas before the split. Some of them were made at Eliza A. Rue’s school in Pennington and had motifs of grapevines, cornucopias, daisy borders, and fruit baskets outlined in black. Some samplers made in Trenton have landscapes and are some of the more charming examples.

There will be a book signing and a one-day sampler exhibition at the historical society in Flemington, New Jersey, on June 1 from noon to 4 p.m. in the library. Owners of the samplers will bring them, and some New Jersey museums will also lend. Twenty-five to 30 samplers illustrated in the book will be exhibited. “Some are coming from as far as North Carolina and Texas,” said Marty Campanelli in a phone interview.

For more information or to order the book ($25 plus postage), log on to the Hunterdon County Historical Society Web site (

Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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