Published: November 9, 2010
Early in the Nineteenth Century, girls in Burlington County, N.J., made samplers depicting multistoried residences set in farmyards crowded with animals and framed by tall, tapering cedar trees. The best of these samplers, a half dozen of which are known, feature a lady on horseback with a painted paper face. Betty Ring described the lady on horseback samplers as among the most appealing of all New Jersey needleworks in Volume II of her 1993 book, G irlhood Embroidery: American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework, 1650‱850.
One of the lady on horseback samplers belongs to the Burlington County Historical Society. Ring illustrated it as Figure 524, crediting it to Thomas E. Rock, who gave the piece to the historical society the following year. Measuring 16½ inches square, the silk and painted paper on linen sampler was made by Mary Bowker (c.1790‱875), who signed the work and dated it 1804.
The Mary Bowker sampler has been reported stolen, last seen by the Burlington County Historical Society on October 16, when it was left in a locked room to be photographed. The museum reported the theft to the police on October 26, said Bernadette Boyle, the historical society’s president. Experts put the value of Mary Bowker’s sampler at $50,000 to $150,000.
Ring wrote that the lady on horseback samplers were made between 1804 and 1807 by girls from Burlington, Wrightstown and Mount Holly, N.J. The girls were probably classmates at the same boarding school, but Ring was unable to identify their instructor. Now Peter and Leslie Warwick, researchers who published “The Birth Records of Burlington County, New Jersey” in the spring 2010 issue of Antiques and Fine Art magazine, believe they have pinpointed both the school and the teacher. The Warwicks’ findings are slated to appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine.
Shocked to hear that the Bowker sampler is missing, some members of the antique needlework community have also been surprised to learn that the historical society plans to auction nearly three dozen pieces, including 29 samplers, in November. Boyle told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that sale proceeds would be used for acquisitions only, in accordance with museum ethics guidelines.
Anyone with knowledge that may aid in the recovery of the Mary Bowker sampler is asked to contact the Burlington County Historical Society at 457 High Street, Burlington, NJ 08016, 609-386-4773, email@example.com or the Burlington City Police Department at its main number, 609-386-0262, or on its tip line at 609-233-8548.
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