Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Tale of Two Howards

nota bene: Please excuse the varying sizes and quality of the images that illustrate this post.  The photographs originate from two different sources and I do not possess adequate knowledge to unify their size.  Also, the two embroidery pieces featured have been photographed under glass which presents a further challenge.

One of the most rewarding and pleasurable aspects of being the author of Chronica Domus is the wonderful comments received in response to the posts I publish.  There are emails too, which often land in my box from readers that have stumbled across a post and wish to share further information about a topic or an item I have written about but don't necessarily wish to leave a comment.  One such email, received recently, aroused such excitement in our household that I thought I would share it with you too.  Here is what it said:

"Good evening, I was intrigued by your picture posted on your blog.  Please take a look at the attachments of an almost identical picture which I have.  Very strange!  Thank you.  Julie Archer".

For a split second, I hesitated clicking on the email's attachments.  Nowadays, one never quite knows what malicious viruses or internet nasties may be lurking.  However, I could see from the miniscule thumbnail pictures at the end of the note that whatever it was that Ms. Archer was sharing with me would be something rather extraordinary.  I was not disappointed.  Rendering me speechless - a rare moment I can assure you - I was confronted with an almost identical mourning embroidery to the one I featured in my post titled Mourning Howard, back in February 2014, which you can read, here.

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Here is the young lady featured in Ms. Archer's mourning embroidery - she bares a striking resemblance to the one depicted in my own mourning embroidery seen below 
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Julie Archer

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These two mournful young ladies must surely be related!
Photo: Chronica Domus

As you can imagine, I was thrilled that Ms. Archer wrote to share her mourning embroidery with me. Having just acquired it recently at a small auction house in the north of England, Ms. Archer knew nothing of the artwork's provenance or who had consigned it to auction.  A quick internet search led her to the images of my own mourning embroidery, purchased in London some fifteen years prior. Having noticed the striking similarities in the scene depicted, the workmanship of the stitching and painted vellum head, hands, and 'HOWARD' lettering upon the tomb, Ms. Archer was compelled to contact me.  Surely, our Georgian girls must be related!

It turns out that Ms. Archer has a particular interest in historical textiles.  She holds a Textile Design degree from Leeds University and has taught both art and art history.  She is as curious as I am to learn more about the artist, or artists, of both of our embroidery works.  In due course, Ms. Archer intends on taking her picture to the university's textile department to see if they are able to shed some light on the piece's construction and origin.

What is known about such embroidery works is that during the late-eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, privileged young girls of the leisured and upper classes were expected to master needlework skills.  Most of them, or at least those that had any pretense to taste and refinement, dabbled in these "satin sketches".  Designs were typically drawn on silk, then embroidered using a variety of stitches, neatly showcasing the young girl's abilities.  Small features were cut from vellum and painted using watercolor paints or inks, a characteristic often seen in such late-eighteenth century embroidery pictures. 

Ms. Archer posits that perhaps both of our girls were stitched by sisters, or that the piece in her possession was a prototype of my own, a sort of "practice run". We might, of course, never learn the truth behind these theories but we both agree on one thing, our girls surely began life together.  

Fortunately, my mourning embroidery has been signed upon its wooden backboard by the young artist, Sophia Haine.  Sophia named her work 'Philanthropy at The Tomb of Howard', and dated it December 15th, 1797, the day the embroidery was completed.  Alas, Ms. Archer's piece is not visibly signed.  Does a clue await discovery, I wonder, if the embroidery is removed from its original verre églomisé mat and giltwood frame?

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Ms. Archer's artwork is devoid of color and almost sepia or grisaille in tone, making it all the more appealing to my eye
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Julie Archer

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Blue, green, and brown threads and watercolor paints or inks add subtle color to my embroidery picture
Photo: Chronica Domus

Ms. Archer's initial research efforts have yielded two late-eighteenth century parish records for Sophia Haine.  The first Sophia was registered in Shipham parish and was born in Lympsham, Somerset in the year 1782.  She would have been around fifteen years of age when my mourning picture was completed.  The second Sophia Haine, daughter of Samuel and Maria Haine, was born in 1783, and resided in Lambeth, Surrey, an area now considered part of London. This Sophia would have been around fourteen years of age in 1797.   

Chronica Domus
My mourning embroidery which hangs in our drawing room is titled 'Mourning Howard' and signed and dated by the artist Sophia Haine, December 15th, 1797
Photo: Chronica Domus

Chronica Domus
Ms. Archer's unsigned, but surely related, 'Mourning Howard' embroidery picture is almost identical to my own, down to the faithfully executed fence and background trees seen at right
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Julie Archer

Ms. Archer will, of course, continue to dig deeper into the mystery of who stitched her mourning embroidery picture and if it is connected to my own.  She has promised to report back with updates and is even prepared to undertake her own Magical Mystery Tour, all in the name of research.  A van and tent, she tells me, are at her disposal in case long-distance travel is called for. 

Thank you, Ms. Julie Archer, for reaching out and making me aware of the existence of your beautiful mourning embroidery.  I look forward to learning more about its history and what the connection to my own piece is. Who knows, we may even get an opportunity of reuniting our girls after two centuries of separation.

To be continued... one hopes!

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The House That Almost Was

As I wrote in my last post, I've been rather distracted as of late.  I have spent a considerable amount of time and energy these past few months contemplating a move back to England with my family. You see, during our visit to London last December, we made arrangements to view a house - twice - that was listed for sale. The property, situated in a small rural village two hours north of London, ticked all the right boxes, or so we thought.  Mellow Georgian brick facade, a substantial plot of land, sash windows with original internal shutters, crunchy gravel driveway, mature specimen trees, intact period outbuilding get the idea. There's even an Aga in the kitchen although that appeals to me more than it does my husband.  I suppose everything one knows about cooking would have to be relearned if one were to actually make use of this most British of country house kitchen contraptions. Aside from the cooking, the Aga would most certainly come in handy during the cold winter months. Those drafty country houses have earned their reputation for good reason, don't you know?

My husband has lived in California all of his life and I have had the privilege of living here for the past twenty-six years.  Moving anywhere, let alone half way across the world, is an enormous decision. Our daughter Patience would dearly love the chance to live in the same country as many of her cousins, uncles, and aunts, whom she knows intimately well.  I believe she's traveled to the UK at least fifteen times already, not bad considering her young age. Patience views England as her second home.

Although we have occasionally toyed with the idea of such a move, the handsome Georgian house we viewed, together with the recent favorable dollar-to-pound currency exchange rate, were our main
motivating factors to make it happen.  A move across the pond suddenly became far more feasible than at any other time in recent memory.  Of course, arrangements would have to be made to sell our house too, but with property around these parts flying off the market within weeks of it being listed, and in some cases days, we feel that would not pose too great an obstacle.  By contrast, the house in the English village has languished on the market for well over a year; the selling price having been reduced twice thus far. With a motivated seller, the carrot is tantalizingly within our reach.

As you can imagine, packing up one's entire household - lock, stock and barrel - and shipping it half way across the globe comes at a hefty price tag, a financial burden worth considering when contemplating any move, particularly one so distant.  Sifting through the handful of estimates we have obtained from various shipping outfits, we have discovered that the cost alone of insuring one's furniture for safe transit is akin to a king's ransom!  Then, of course, there's the question of what to do with our old and trusty Volvo wagon, so handy for carting people, pets, and large household items around. It's almost a member of our family. Do we ship that too, or sell it? Would it ever feel "right" driving a left-hand drive on the left-hand side of the road? And, there's that other little matter of taxes.  Do you know that it is the responsibility of every US Citizen living abroad to file taxes annually in both their adopted country and at home?  This rule will apply to Patience too when she eventually joins the UK workforce, regardless of the fact that she has never earned a cent here. And, talking of paperwork, let's address the reams of forms required, along with the hefty fees, for successfully navigating one's way through the maze of UK entry requirements.  It's enough to make one's head spin!  Although I consider my English skills to be somewhat proficient, it boggles the mind how anyone who lacks a law degree can make head or tail of some of these forms. And, of course, we come to Norton, our beloved pet cat. I believe his pile of paperwork, when stacked, might just be taller than him!

Looking past the financial and practical issues of transplanting our household half way across the globe, when all is said and done would we ever fully adjust to life in a rural British village where attending the local pub and church form the main pastimes of the local villagers?   Personally, I would have absolutely no trouble adjusting, having already resided in both town and country during my time living in England. If I crave the trappings of big city life there's always London, a mere two-hour car journey south.

It is our young daughter Patience we worry about.  What opportunities would she be missing out on if we bit the bullet and made the move?  How about schooling?  Would she find herself lagging behind the other students having been tutored in an entirely different educational system?  Would she be missing out on the benefits of living in a culturally diverse area, such as is the case with San Francisco or any other major city, where opportunities for employment, among other things, are abundant?  Agricultural jobs abound in the area of the village.  Beyond that, there's really little else.

Aside from the obvious lifestyle adjustment, what of the future?  As we don't have the advantage of peering into a crystal ball, my husband and I have done the next best thing and diligently researched the area of the village and nearby market town. Worryingly, a recurring theme we hit upon was flooding due to the area's low-lying topography and proximity to various water sources. Tidal flooding, sadly, is a real and serious concern.  From everything we've read, things are predicted to worsen over the coming years with the rising sea levels. Would our daughter be shackled to a sinking inheritance?  Most probably so.

For now, here we remain. Although the cons outstripped the pros with this particular Georgian village property, we feel we've earned ourselves quite an education in the minutia of a global move. We are now far better prepared, both emotionally and factually, were a similar opportunity to present itself in the future.  In the meantime, I am very happy to return to this rather neglected blog, and to you my loyal readers.

Of course, the silver lining to this tale is that we still get to happily live our lives in our beloved 1920's house, enjoying the benefits of a thriving local economy, excellent weather, remarkable scenery, and the pleasurable companionship of close friends and good neighbors. We have much for which to be thankful.

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