A Boston needlework from the collection of the
American Folk Art Museum in New York
Hannah Carter’s elegant lady in a pastoral setting belongs to colonial Boston’s most famous form of needlework, featuring the so-called fishing lady motif. It first captured the attention of collectors and scholars when seven canvaswork pictures featuring an identical lady holding a fishing pole were published in 1923. It was 1941, however, before convincing evidence was offered that these and related pastoral embroideries were worked by young girls while attending Boston boarding schools. Twelve fishing ladies were recorded within a group of fifty-eight related pieces and eventually they all became known as “fishing lady” pictures with or without the pole or the lady. Today, seventeen pieces that depict the fishing lady are known but only six makers have been identified and the schools they attended have defied discovery. The close similarity of motifs in Hannah’s embroidery- especially the flowering tree on the left- leaves little doubt that she was taught by the fishing lady instructress. The artist’s identity may never be proven but the most likely Hannah Carter was born in Boston on August 31, 1732. She was the oldest child of shipwright Ralph Carter (1700- ?) and Sarah Bomer Thompson (1705- ?), who were married by Dr. Joseph Sewall at the Old South Church on November 21, 1731. She may also have been the Hannah Carter who married ropemaker Thomas Ayres (1728- ?) on July 12, 1753.
The original canvaswork measures 21” x 19”, so the closest approximation to the original size would be worked over one thread on 25 count linen, or over two threads on 40 count linen. Only petit point (cross stitch over one thread of linen) is required. The project is recommended for any skill level but requires a great deal of time to complete.