Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Olivia Winifred Jordan's Sampler: An Statement of Educational Accomplishment and Familial Identity

Olivia Winifred Jordan's Sampler
In around 1828, a young girl, born in 1818, made a sampler that will be a part of the upcoming exhibition "Georgia's Girlhood Embroidery: 'Crowned with Glory and Immortality,'" which will run from October 31, 2015, to February 28, 2016 at the Georgia Museum of Art. Her name was Olivia Winifred Jordan, and she lived in rural Washington County, Georgia. 

Like many young girls of the 18th and 19th centuries, she made an embroidery sampler to demonstrate her needlework skills and her literacy. It contains multiple kinds of marking alphabets, many different kinds of decorative geometric bands and a strawberry border that goes around the entire sampler, which are all utterly commonplace to schoolgirl samplers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In this sense, the surviving sampler is a relic of the system of girlhood education common in a bygone era. Olivia could have been trained in these skills at any one of the many female academies in Georgia, or, most likely, at home by her own mother. 

In another sense, her sampler offers us a glimpse into her unique world. She proudly prints her whole name as "Olivia Winefred Jordan" on the bottom of her sampler. Genealogical research reveals that she was named after both her maternal grandmother, Olivia Bell, and her paternal grandmother, Winifred Jordan. Further research on the family reveals that it was large, extended and close-knit and that family members frequently moved long distances to live with their relatives, a pattern that promoted the entire family's unified migration across the South over the generations. Olivia's sampler clearly reflects this family-centered identity. It also reflects the common way in which samplers and other forms of schoolgirl embroidery were often used to communicate social, political, familial and religious messages. 

Olivia's sampler, then, represents a microcosm of the world that she inhabited, both as a member of her family and as a white middle-class schoolgirl in the antebellum southern United States. It is both a work of folk art and a statement of social identity and is therefore valuable to both those who appreciate art and those who study social history. Those interested in delving more deeply into this topic should take time to visit the museum when the exhibition will be on display. A kit that contains the chart and the material necessary to replicate Olivia's sampler will also be on sale at the Museum Shop during the duration of the exhibition. 

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