Lydia Russell’s silk embroidery is not only a beautiful example of schoolgirl art, but also a documentation of her family around 1809. Family records became popular in early-19th-century America in response to a growing reverence for home and family. Young ladies worked “the registers” either as samplers or as silk embroideries. They presented birth, marriage and death dates in a variety of formats and sometimes included alphabets, verses or architectural features, along with important family events. Some embroideries could be classified as memorials to a family or individual, while others are pictorial.
The daughter of Edward Russell and Lydia Adams of West Cambridge, Mass., Lydia Russell probably worked this tree-of-life design on silk and watercolor when she was about 18 years old. Children’s birth dates appear on the apples in orange for daughters and blue for sons. The tree is flanked by monuments topped by urns with beautiful spiraling vines running upward and tied with a Neoclassical bowknot. On the monument honoring her father, Lydia inscribed his birth, marriage and death dates. The other monument commemorates her mother’s birth and the death of 1-year-old Lydia, the sister for whom she was named. The undersized house, tiny animals and landscape beneath the towering tree add a touch of charming innocence to this young girl’s elegant masterpiece.
Volume 145, Number 2, March/April 2011, Page 7
Photography by Scott Braman