Mary Ann Walton, C.1820's, New Hampshire,
Portsmouth House and Barn Sampler
By the first quarter of the 19th Century, schools for girls were well established in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and instruction in needlework was diligently pursued as part of the curriculum. There evolved from this endeavor a stylistic body of work, unique unto itself . . . The Portsmouth House and Barn Samplers. At least fourteen Portsmouth samplers with this basic pattern have been recorded. The names of the schools on the samplers that most commonly appear are Mary Walden, E. Walden, Elizabeth S. and Mary Ann Smith. One could likely conclude that the two Waldens and the two Smiths were related although this has not been conclusively confirmed according to Betty Ring.
As they were of approximate age it is entirely possible they all attended school together and learned needlework under the same instructress and proceeded to teach that in their own schools. We can, however confirm that all four individuals were teaching needlework in Portsmouth during the time when the House and Barn format flourished . . . roughly from 1810 to 1840. A number of these samplers were signed by the maker and named the school . . . Mary Ann Smiths' School, Mary Waldens' School, and E. Waldens' School. Both the Smith and Walden sisters kept day schools of short duration due to personal circumstances, but their patterns were adopted by other Portsmouth teachers and so continued as a Portsmouth tradition until about 1840. These samplers were worked on both natural linen and green linsey-woolsey and the preferred verse on the Smiths School was the verse that begins, "How blest the maid whom circling years improve", while the Walden sisters favored "Jesus permit they gracious name to stand".
The House and Barn Samplers are totally delightful! The focal point is a Federal style house, often in perspective, with a picket fence that forms a band of ribbing across the sampler, linking the house to the barn. One bird rests on the gatepost and the birdhouse, with its own chimney and bird atop, sits on a tall pole high above the roofline of the barn. Triangular shaped trees shade the farmyard between the house and the barn and flying cherubs hold the festooned tasseled swag.
While not much is conclusively known about our samplermaker as her birth date is not evident on the sampler, the verse stitched is the favored one of the Smiths' School so we lean strongly that way in terms of attribution. But attribution is simply that. What matters is the fact that the piece speaks for itself and this one does in volumes. It's a beautiful example of the genre, recording a time and place in Portsmouth History and though Mary Ann may be not known to us as we would like her to be, her needlework showcases the best of the best in the House and Barn Samplers and is a worthy addition to any collection. Worked in silk on linen and conservation mounted, the work remains in excellent condition.