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Sacrifice of Isaac

Boush, Elizabeth –Gardner, Elizabeth
Place Made:
Norfolk Virginia United States of America
Date Made:
silk on silk
HOA: 19 1/2; WOA: 11 1/2 (see desc.)
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Needlework picture depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac. An older man in the center reaches up to an angel on the left and down to a boy on the right. A large tree with a goat behind is on the far right and a smoking pot, arrow, and hat are on the left with a distant castle behind. A pond and plants are in the foreground. Worked in silk tent stitch on woven silk (38-40 threads per inch). Two-ply twisted silk on plain weave ground; tent stitches.

With frame 14″ x 24 1/4″

ARTIST: Elizabeth Boush (b. 1752-1754; died before 1811) was the daughter of Catherine Ballard and Samuel Boush (c.1720-1784) of Norfolk. She would have been sixteen years old when she completed this needlework. In 1772 Elizabeth married Champion Travis (d. 1810), and the couple eventually moved to Williamsburg. Elizabeth’s needlework descended in the Travis family until it was donated to MESDA. Her portrait by John Durand is in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg.

TEACHER: Miss Elizabeth Gardner first advertised opening her Norfolk young ladies’ boarding school in Purdie’s Williamsburg Virginia Gazette, March 31, 1766. She was to teach “Young Ladies as boarders…Embroidery, tent work, nuns do, queenstitch, Irish do, and all kinds of shading; also point, Dresden lace work, catgut, &c. Shell work, wa[x] work and artificial flowers.” She again advertised in the Virginia Gazette of Purdie and Dixon, February 20 1772, under the married name of “E. ARMSTON (or perhaps better known by the Name of GARDNER)” as continuing her school at Point Pleasant in Norfolk Borough, and expanded her list of needlework to include “PetitPoint in Flowers, Fruit, Landscapes, and Sculpture, Nuns Work, Embroidery in Silk, Gold, Silver, Pearls, or embossed, Shading of all Kinds, in the various Works in Vogue, Dresden Point Work, Lace Ditto, Catgut in different Modes, florishing Muslin, after the newest Taste, and most elegant Pattern, waxworks in Figure, Fruit, or Flowers, shell ditto, or grotesque, Painting in water colours and Mezzotinto, also the Art of taking off Foilage, with several other Embellishments necessary for the Amusement of Persons of Fortune who have taste.” Although she also taught reading, she hired male professors to teach writing, arithmetic, music and dancing when desired. In November of 1769 she married Freer Armston, a successful merchant and soap boiler. Their good fortune did not last, however. Armston was a Loyalist, and in 1775 the couple – who had a daughter- took refuge with the British fleet and eventually married in England.

SOURCE: Reminiscent of the Old Testament embroideries worked by English schoolgirls between about 1640 and 1680, Elizabeth’s religious subject is rare for a colonial embroidery. The printed source for the composition is probably drawn from the work of Willem van de Passe’s 1607-1637 or Egbert van Panderen after Pieter de Jode.

Given the the antiquity of the printed source for this embroidery, it is likely that Elizabeth’s teacher, Elizabeth Gardner, ordered the canvas with the design already drawn, from a London pattern drawer, who may have also supplied the embroidery silk.

Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. James Stone