Panel for fire screen, by unidentified artist, ca. 1865–1885, Salem, Mass. Wool, glass, metal, and linen.

A Sampling of Artist Biographies

Mary Holingworth, 1650/52–1694

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Mary Holingworth was the daughter of merchant and tavern owner William Holingworth and his wife, Elinor Story Holingworth. She is believed to have been a pupil of a Madame Piedmonte of Boston, a “celebrated instructress of that day.” In 1675, Mary married Philip English, an immigrant from the Isle of Jersey who later prospered as a merchant. In 1692 both Mary and Philip were accused and imprisoned during the Salem witchcraft trials. Aided by ministers and government officials, they escaped to New York—where they remained for two years. After returning to Salem in 1694, Mary died at the age of forty-two.

In his diary in 1793, the Reverend William Bentley noted that Mary “had the best education of her times. Wrote with great ease & has left a specimen of her needlework in her infancy or Youth. It is about 2 feet by 9 inches, like a sampler. It concludes with an Alphabet & her name, in the usual form. The figures are diversified with great ease & proportion, & there are all the stitches known to be then in use, & an endless variety of figures in right lines, after no example of nature.” A descendant of Philip and Mary bequeathed the sampler to the Essex Institute in 1900.

Thomas Willis, 1850–1912
Ship Marianne Nottebon of New York

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Thomas Willis was born in Denmark and worked in Brooklyn, New York, as a marine artist. For a time he apparently worked for a manufacturer of silk embroidery thread, and this may have influenced his choice of medium. He advertised as an “Inventor & sole maker of silk ware pictures”—creating ship portraits with textile hulls, silk or satin sails, painted backgrounds, and embroidered details such as waves, rigging, and human figures. Willis’s superb handling of the medium makes his paintings indistinguishable from oil paintings at first glance.

Nannie Jenks Borden Phillips, 1877–1963
The Fishing Lady; Our Safari

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Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, Nannie Jenks Borden Phillips married historian and author James Duncan Phillips in England in 1907. They settled in Topsfield, Massachusetts, traveling extensively over the years. Ms. Phillips was a member of the Society of Arts and Crafts of Boston and pursued a variety of artistic endeavors, including toy making, art pottery, and embroidery.

The Fishing Lady is an impressive copy of an eighteenth-century chimneypiece made by Eunice Borne of Barnstable, Mass. Such replication of historic needlework was common among embroiderers of the Arts and Crafts movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—in contrast to the adaptive intent of later Colonial Revival works.

Our Safari, unlike the earlier reproduction piece, is a highly personal work that draws on photographs and memory to depict the artist’s journey through Africa some ten years earlier.

Morris Larkin, 1922–
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At age 23, Morris Larkin was an air force crewman flying bombing missions over German military installations in France. On August 13, 1944, his plane was shot down and the crew imprisoned in a series of war camps. While imprisoned, Larkin embroidered his handkerchief—
unraveling shoestrings and clothing to create his own embroidery floss and using a powdered-milk can for a hoop. The commemorative piece depicts Larkin’s wartime experience, including an embroidered list naming fellow prisoners of war and the camps in which they stayed. In July 2000, the United States Air Force awarded Larkin the Distinguished Flying Cross for deeds of heroism during aerial flight.

Music by Robert J. Bradshaw, produced at MSI Studios, (978) 281-9616.

Judy Chicago, 1939–
Creation of the World, Petit Point 2

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Internationally celebrated installation artist Judy Chicago, of New Mexico, first used embroidery while working on The Dinner Party—among the most acclaimed and provocative installation artworks of the twentieth century. “I soon realized that because needlework has long been relegated to the women’s sphere and therefore diminished, its potential as a visual language had too often gone unrecognized.” Ms. Chicago set out to demonstrate that embroidery could be a medium of high art. She has used embroidery, weaving, and other techniques in several series of works including The Birth Project, completed in the 1980s. That work explores “hidden aspects of female experience”—particularly that of birth and creation.

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