Needlework picture (Silkwork picture)

  • Category:

    Textiles (Needlework)

  • Creator (Role):

    Sarah Derby (Maker)

    Jannette Day (School mistress)

  • Place of Origin:

    Salem, Essex, Massachusetts, New England, United States, North America

  • Secondary Place of Origin:

    Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, New England, United States, North America

  • Date:


  • Materials:

    Silk; Gouache; Paint

  • Techniques:

    Painted, Embroidered, Woven (satin)

  • Museum Object Number:

    1957.1030 A

  • Complete Details

Object Number

1957.1030 A

Object Name

Needlework picture (Silkwork picture)


Textiles (Needlework)

Credit Line/Donor

Bequest of Henry Francis du Pont

Creator (Role)

Sarah Derby (Maker)
Sarah Derby (1747-1774), called Sally, was the youngest child of Richard Derby (1712-1783) and Mary Hodges (1713- 1770) of Salem. She was about eighteen years old, and under the instruction of Jannette Day in Boston, upon completion of her 1763-1766 silk and paint on silk satin overmantel, or chimneypiece. It was framed in Salem by Samuel Blythe Jr. in 1767. Sally is also credited with another chimneypiece in possibly made in 1765, framed in the manner of Eunice Bourne's (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). Sally married Captain John Gardner in 1769, who later built the Pingree House. They had three children, John, Sarah, and Richard. Sally died the year that Richard was born. This chimneypiece descended to her great, great grandson, Benjamin P. Ellis. Family tradition attributes the general design and painting of the faces and sky to John Singleton Copley, who was a friend of the family, although this claim has not been substantiated. (Ring, Betty. Girlhood Embroidery, Vol. I, pp. 58-59; Memo dated Nov. 25, 2009 to Pamela Parmal, in object file.)

Jannette Day (School mistress)-1771
Jannette (Jane) Day was born in Scotland. It is unclear when she came to the Colonies, specifically Rhode Island. She was an unwed mother when she moved from Rhode Island to Boston in 1757 where she taught boarding school, based on her advertisement in the Boston-Gazette. Jannette was initially given moral and financial support by the prominent embroidery teacher, Elizabeth Murray. With her help, Jannette soon became Boston's second most skilled embroidery instructor, opening one of the most fashionable schools in the city. During the 1760's, she was teaching the daughters of prestigious New Englanders. Just like Elizabeth Murray, Jannette also worked as a milliner to supplement her income. In the spring of 1768, she returned to her native Scotland where she married a Mr. Barclay. He died before May 1770 and Jannette died about 1771. (Ring, Betty. Girlhood Embroidery, Vol. 1, pp. 58-59; Parmal, Pamela. Women's Work, p. 114)

Place of Origin

Salem, Essex, Massachusetts, New England, United States, North America

Secondary Place of Origin

Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, New England, United States, North America

Secondary Origin Notes





Silk; Gouache; Paint


Painted, Embroidered, Woven (satin)

Construction Description

Hand-embroidered, hand-painted

Dimensions (inches)

18.37 (L) , 54 (W)

Dimensions (centimeters)

46.66 (L) , 137.16 (W)

Measurement Notes

Dimensions refer to area of needlework visible within frame.

Object Description

Web - 09/08/2014

Displayed in the home of its maker, embroidery highlighted a woman's education and accomplishments. Sarah Derby worked this overmantel picture between 1763 and 1766 using silk threads on black silk satin. While this chimneypiece has always been known to have been embroidered by Sarah Derby at Janette Day’s school in Boston, for many years the painted elements were attributed to the Boston artist John Singleton Copley. Part of the artistic training for both young men and women was learning to copy important works of the past. The design for this silkwork picture is derived from an engraving by Jean Le Pautre entitled 'Women Dancing in an Arcadian Landscape'. Today scholars are working to distinguish patterns that were drawn and painted by professional artists, by teachers, or by students who were often taught drawing and painting in addition to embroidery. Whether this piece was drawn and painted by Sarah or by a professional artist, it was an expensive work of art that was framed in her hometown of Salem and proudly displayed in her family home.

Bibliography and Bibliographic Notes

[Article] Eaton, Linda. 09//2005 Needles & Haystacks: Pastoral Imagery in American Needlework. Winterthur Magazine. (Fall 2005)
Published: pp. 12-13
[Book] Ring, Betty. 1993 Girlhood Embroidery: American Samplers & Pictorial Needlework 1650-1850. I.
Published: pp. 58-59, fig. 58
[Book] Parmal, Pamela A. 2012 Women's Work: Embroidery in Colonial Boston.
Published: p. 112-113, fig. 71