Needleworks & Rugs
LIBERTY NEEDLEWORK
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  • Lucina Hudson (1787–?)
  • South Hadley, Massachusetts
  • 1808
  • Watercolor and silk thread on silk with metallic thread and spangles
  • 18 x 16 in.
  • American Folk Art Museum purchase with funds from the Jean Lipman Fellows, 1996.9.1
  • After the War of Independence, symbolic elements played a meaningful role in creating a unified American identity. Americans were actively encouraged to bring these symbols into their homes through the decorative arts, thereby reinforcing a sense of participation in the formation of the new American nation. The symbol of Liberty, as embodied in the female form, had evolved from earlier images that were associated first with the North American continent and later with the English colonies. The figure originally was identified as the American Indian Queen, and by the time it was introduced as a needlework project at the Abby Wright School in South Hadley, Massachusetts, at the turn of the nineteenth century, the allegorical figure had undergone a series of transformations, becoming synonymous with the United States and the spirit of rebellion from oppressive rule.

    This needlework was made by Lucina Hudson of Oxford, Massachusetts, whose father had fought in the Revolutionary War. In 1808, when she stitched this needlework, Hudson would have been nearly 21 and at the upper age range of students enrolled in Abby Wright’s school. At least four additional examples of this theme are known; all represent Liberty as a charming young woman with ringleted hair, fashionably garbed á la grecque, and carrying a liberty pole topped by a pileus, a close-fitting cap worn in ancient Rome and symbolizing liberty. In Hudson’s needlework, the pole also flies a flag with colorful stripes and applied spangles. The figure bears an overflowing cornucopia, and the entire composition is contained within an oval embroidered with a border of flowers and wheat. The needlework bears many of the hallmarks associated with this Massachusetts school: minute seed stitches worked around shrubbery and trees, a small village in the background, a painted sky, and painted figures. Hudson died unmarried in Ellisburgh, New York, where her family had moved about 1823.