Frances Kervil

Needlepoint, 1844
Needlepoint on fabric
12.50 x 11.50 in
SKU: 12303c
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In 1844, a then 8-year-old Frances Kervil put the finishing touches on this original needlepoint composition. Bound by floral patterns, trees, and animals, the needlepoint revolves around an eight line poem extolling the virtues of education, hard work, and morality. Although visually stunning and illustrative of Kervil’s bourgeoning ability as an embroiderer, this piece might be better understood as an instructional tool rather than strictly as a work of art. In the 16th-19th centuries, needlepoints were often used as tools to teach young women how to stitch, a skill useful later in life when they would be responsible for the upkeep of the home and mending clothes. Young women would learn how to stitch from older family members or by a teacher at a “dame school,” a private elementary school usually located in the teacher’s home. At this age, Kervil likely consulted a sampler, a piece of embroidery with various patterns and designs that could be easily referenced or copied. The slight depression in the upper right corner of the border surrounding the poem suggests that this is the work of someone still learning the intricacies of embroidery, rather than a master. While needlepoints obviously had a functional purpose, they were also meant to instill a sense of rectitude in the embroiderer through the inclusion of educational verses or quotations from the Bible. The didactic tone and simple rhyme scheme and meter of the poem serve to reinforce the needlepoint's moralizing project. The poem is composed in iambic tetrameter, save for the dactyl “Industry” in the first line. Iambic meters are the meters considered closest to the cadence of natural speech and are thus easier to memorize and recall. Moreover, the "My Dear" referenced in the fifth line is directed not only to the reader but the embroiderer too; as such, it is likely that the poem was not composed by Kervil. It is possible that the poem was composed by Kervil’s teacher or an older member of the Kervil family; it could also be that the poem never existed formally in print and was instead something that was disseminated orally. However, Kervil adds her own personal touch with the corrugated lines that follow each line of the poem. These waved lines are significant as they form something like a ‘negative’ meter, showing the difference in length between each line. This visualization of the poetic meter places the needlepoint in conversation with later visual poetry movements like typewriter and computer poetry. Unfortunately virtually no information exists on Frances Kervil. Because this needlepoint was created when she was so young, it is difficult to glean her later interests from this piece alone. This needlepoint would have likely been one of her earliest samplers, used to practice her stitching; later as a young adult, she would have likely composed another sampler consisting of designs that displayed her interests. While we may never know how Kervil’s life unfolded, we can view this piece as a historical snapshot into the life of young women in the 19th century and the social values imposed upon them. Needlepoint on fabric 12.5 x 11.5 in, artwork 16.625 x 15.75 in, frame "Frances Kervils Work / Aged 8 year 1844" stitched in lower center Framed to conservation standards using archival materials including 100 percent rag matting, Museum Glass to inhibit fading and reduce glare, and housed in a black finish wood moulding. There are a number of holes in the fabric; however, given the age of this piece, it is in remarkably good condition otherwise. Some general wear to the finish of the frame.