Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Request re: Woodlawn

This morning I'm going to comply with Jane of Chilly Hollow's request for more of my opinions on the Woodlawn Needlework Exhibition this year. Photos are from 2006 mostly because of the four times I've been to Woodlawn this month, only one day was the sun shining and that day I forgot my camera at home.

From the National Trust for Historic Preservation website:

Built in 1805, this grand house overlooking the Potomac River was a gift from George Washington to his nephew Major Lawrence Lewis and his wife Eleanor "Nelly" Custis. A granddaughter of Martha Washington, Nelly was raised at Mount Vernon as part of the First Family. Fittingly, the President asked Dr. William Thornton, architect of the U.S. Capitol, to design a new house for the young couple and provided 2,000 acres of his estate. Woodlawn interprets the life of the Lewis family as well as enslaved and free African Americans.

Woodlawn is owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

About the group that started the show at Woodlawn from an old Washington Post article:

Inadvertently, Martha Washington's grand-daughter Nellie Custis Lewis inspired the largest and oldest needlework exhibition in the country. Lewis, who was an ardent needler, lived at Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria while she was married to Lawrence Lewis from 1802 until he died in 1839. She acquired her needlework skills from her grandmother, and many samples of Lewis' work are a part of Woodlawn's permanent collection.

With Lewis' example in mind, a group of 75 women-who call themselves Nellie's Needlers-initiated the juried needlework exhibition in 1963 as a fund-raiser for Woodlawn.

Pretty pictures aside. This year brings some changes to the exhibition. The National Trust in the past has allowed the Nellies to run the show. This year the Trust has assumed control with a lot of help from the Nellies. In addition to all they do in support of the show, the Nellies also offer hand stitched items for sale in the gift shop and run the very popular Tea Room during the month of the show. Their profits help support Woodlawn in a monetary fashion. These women are extremely dedicated and deserve a huge round of applause for all they do.

I have an actual real life catalog in front of me, an item some of you who visited the show earlier in the month may not have received. The snow threw all schedules out of whack this year and the programs did not come back from the printers until this week. Now I have just noticed something very interesting. The program refers to the Nelly's. I am uncertain of which spelling is correct. LOL

The judges statement in the catalog offers up a few hints for all stitchers.

1) watch out for lint and pet hair when in the finishing/framing process
2) when using metallic threads make certain they are laid correctly - don't pull too tightly
3) remember all threads have a useful length. Do not use a thread to the very end

Every year I hear from people who don't understand why this piece got a ribbon and why this piece didn't. And especially why did this piece win Best in Show. All I can say is that we, who are looking at the hung exhibit, are not certified judges and we aren't able to examine each piece with a magnifying glass. This year the judges are Karen Duggan, an ANG certified judge, Lisa Geosits, an EGA certified judge, and Regina Madory Walter, a long time SAGA and EGA member and teacher who for seven was the chairman of the EGA Master Craftsman Program for Plain and Fancy Certification.

I found it very odd that one of the Judge's Choice Awards went to a piece without any other ribbon on it. (Each judge is given one ribbon to award to a piece they deem worthy.) How a piece can get a Judge's Choice without any other recognition to me seems wrong.

Now on to my opinions. From here on it may get brutal. Or maybe I'll be too kind. Let's see where the fingers take us.

One of changes to this year's show is in the reception room. For the past few years this room has been filled with mostly samplers and smalls in the cases. The cases up against the walls are history. Instead there are two free standing cases in the middle of the room with smalls. And maybe a dozen or so pieces on the walls. They have also moved the cash register desk from out of the gift shop into the reception room. There are some major prize winners in this room. Including a beautiful Jan Houtman sampler stitched by John Kazmaier. In all John entered four Houtman samplers, three of which one ribbons. I bow down the man's expertise and color sense.

For some reason there is nothing in the room that sends me over the moon. I admire Catherine Jordan's crazy quilt embroidered box which won the Frank Lloyd Wright award for best original design. And Nancy Williams piece which won Best in Show. Nancy's stitching is impeccable. But the pieces just don't sing to me. Even the best miniature is leaving me lukewarm.

In the downstairs bedroom we see another change wrought by the Trust. The ropes allow you to go further into the room than ever before. What a lovely thing. There are still a few pieces across the room, but in all the bedrooms this is a terrific innovation letting us see more pieces more closely. There are some pretty things in here, but nothing telling me I must stitch this.

In the parlor next to the bedroom there is a marvelously beautiful green embroidered basket/box. Emerald green. Probably garnered a lot of attention yesterday. Funny but nothing else is sticking with me from this room.

In the central hall. Here's my idea of decorating: walls covered in samplers. Of many types. I get that people either seem to love samplers or hate samplers. Doesn't seem to be much in between. A midst all these samplers is hanging a lovely hardanger piece by Janet Terry who is one of the Nellies. She's 90 years old and did a bang up job on this EGA Correspondence Course. Hope I can do this when I'm 90. There is a marvelous "And They Sinned" which is impressive in its size alone. Maybe I'm getting old and jaded or I just have too much stash, but I don't see any commercial patterns here that I must absolutely have.

(Here's where I insert a little tidbit. If you get information about the source of a commercial pattern from the docents, it may not be correct. We had info sheets, which are as usually incomplete, but are also wrong. "And They Sinned" was attributed to Dames of the Needle, not Examplar Dames Design Co. And three samplers were listed as being designed by Jane Hartman, not Jan Houtman. I'm hauling out the old chestnut on this one - trust, but verify.)

The music room has been turned into the "Wow" room by the addition of 37 pieces of Japanese Embroidery. If you don't really know anything about Japanese Embroidery I suggest clicking the link. You will be impressed. I love that there are multiple pieces of the same design on different colored silks. I know enough about this to be blown away. And I know the first prize winner. Congrats, Michael Ann! Amazingly you can walk right up to these pieces and see their excellence. There are also a few other pieces rounding out this room. Kimonos on canvas. Samurai cross stitch. A lovely gold work piece on the mantel. Oh yeah. A little dogwood canvas on the table with my name on it.

Moving into the dining room. This is the flower/fruit room this year. As usual Anna Garris Goiser has two gorgeous original crewel pieces. I'm sorry that her first place piece is on the door at the far side of the room. I want to see that one up close. And an original canvas that I assume she hand painted that is in the fireplace with a ribbon also. My friend, Sara Leigh of Merrey Designs, also has some ribbon winners in this room.

Time Out. I just want to say that on Monday, as I was sitting on the chair in this room reading the info sheet for the room, I glanced up and saw a man standing behind the rope. In a black suit. With a beard. I blinked and he was gone. End of ghost story. What the hell?

You know what? I'm going to have to continue this later. Because it's time for me to leave.

Interested in more?


Anna van Schurman said...

Of course we're interested in more! My own feeling is that it would be Nellies or Nellys but never never Nelly's. ARGH.

Bonnie said...

Wow, Donna. Would not surprise me. When we were in Savannah two of our ladies saw ghosts. One is "unconfirmed" in that she told me about it but I never got to the front desk to make an inquiry. However, the second 'sighting' was our UK teacher. She told me she had a 'nightmare' that there was a man in Civil War dress in her room. I did talk to the woman we know at the front desk and she looked up Tricia's room and said she was not surprised to hear her story. Said a staff member has also seen the man in Civil War dress.

The Chilly Hollow Needlepoint Adventure said...

Donna, even ghosts want to see good stitching.

Thanks so much for listening to my whining and telling me a lot about Woodlawn! Now I can't wait to get there to see it all in person.

Donna said...

The Nelly's would be short for Nelly's Needlers. And that would why I left that apostrophe there.

Anonymous said...

Donna, I'm so glad you posted the piece that was done by the 90 year old, we asked yesterday and we never got an answer.

I have been going to the Woodlawn Show since it inception in 1963, I have missed twice (the year my mother died and the year I was treated for cancer). My point in mentioning this is that I loved the changes, with the layout to allowing photos.


maggiebsmocks said...

Thank you for volunteering at Woodlawn. if not for the volunteers, the Show wouldn't take place.

'Sources' are up to discretion of the entrant to include the information. Or not. It is handwritten and often illegibly. The list of Sources was compiled for the first time ever and meant to be a helpful guide.

JANE Terry is indeed a Nelly. A wonderful volunteer who spends many hours at Woodlawn during the Show. At 90+ she runs circles around many of us.

Finally, a correction regarding Judge's Choice. YES, Judges do have the right to choose ANY entry for recognition. However, your comment that one of the JC ribbons went to a non-ribbon winner is incorrect. All three JC ribbons were awarded to ribbon winners.

Respectfully, maggieb!

Anonymous said...

As a daughter of a "Nelly", I can verify that they are Nelly's Needlers. Really enjoyed hearing your opinion on the show!