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The First, Second, and Last Scene of Mortality
1776-1783
Embroiderer:Embroidered by Prudence Punderson , American, 1758 - 1784
Designer:Probably designed by Prudence Punderson , American, 1758 - 1784
Embroidery: untwisted silk thread, ink on a plain-woven silk ground. Frame: Wood with black and gold paint.
Primary Dimensions (height x width): 12 3/4 x 16 3/4in. (32.4 x 42.5cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Newton C. Brainard
Gallery Copy: This masterpiece of American needlework offers multiple layers of meaning. It is a detailed pre-Revolutionary domestic interior, an illustration of the stages of life, a rare visual record of slavery in New England, and a self-portrait of Prudence as an artist. The passage from cradle to grave is shown from right to left. A young black woman rocks the cradle that holds Prudence as a baby. This is likely the woman listed in Ebenezer Punderson’s 1805 will as “my Negro Wench Jenny.” At center Prudence sits, drawing a flower stem, while at left, her coffin rests upon a drop-leaf table. Details are closely observed and a variety of textures are realistically conveyed through thread.
Description: Embroidered picture worked in green, brown, black, gold, cream, and white silk threads on a plain-woven silk ground, using satin stitch and other stitches. The picture is rectangular, oriented horizontally. The lower edge of the silk ground is signed in black ink, "The First Second and Last Scene of Mortality. Prudence Punderson." The picture shows an interior room with three scenes from right to left. The scene at the right shows a child or infant in a crib, tended by an African-American woman; to the left of her is a chair. On the wall above the African-American woman is an embroidery of a framed painting showing a woman leaning against a wall with a male guard standing behind her. The middle scene shows a young woman sitting at a tea table with an inkwell, compass, and ruler on it. She draws in green on white paper. The young woman is wearing an elaborate headdress and fichu. The scene at the left shows a black coffin with the initials "P.P." in front of a mirror draped with white patterned fabric. The scenes are set in front of a wall with three windows, each draped with green curtains. The floor has a black, white, and green rectangular-patterned floor covering. The picture is in a wooden frame painted black, with gold paint at the interior edges. The silk ground has a red/white/red striped selvedge on the left side with regularly spaced holes. The silk thread is crinkled, or crimped, and may be unraveled. The thread is S-spun in both the warp and the weft. The ground has 112 yarns per inch in the warp and 80 yarns per inch in the weft. Stitches: The principal stitch used in the picture is the satin stitch. Other stitches include flat, whip, outline, chain, running, feather, and cross. Condition: The frame is old, but not original. The picture was previously glued to a board; the board and glue have been removed, but some darkening of the edges of the silk ground remains. There is some loss to the original silk ground around the edges and to the left of the African-American woman. The silk ground has discolored and warped. The silk ground has been cleaned, and it is now backed on a matching silk support.
Historical Notes: This picture was embroidered and signed by Prudence Punderson prior to her marriage to Dr. Timothy Wells Rossiter in October 1783. The scene has long been interpreted as a depiction of the Punderson family home in Preston, Connecticut, in part, because family furnishings similar to those shown have survived.
Object Number: 1962.28.4
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