The Sampler Sleuth
A Haitian sampler is unique in its own right, but perhaps even more curious is how a sampler from that part of the world found its way to the Fredericksburg, Texas, home of Jane and Ron Woellhof.
As is the case with many crossstitch projects, friendship is the common thread responsible for this treasure residing with the Woellhofs.
Although the sampler maker is unknown, it came to Jane from Polly MacQueen, a dear friend of the Woellhofs. Before moving to Fredericksburg, Polly and Mr. Mac (as her husband was fondly known) lived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for many years.
An Ohio-trained registered nurse, Polly blended her profession with compassion as she worked to improve medical care in Haiti. In her medical capacity, she spoke with François Duvalier, president of Haiti from 1957 to 1971, regarding the less-than-optimal public health conditions in the Caribbean nation. When Polly suggested ways that she could volunteer to help provide education to improve the situation, Jane recalls, “Papa Doc ordered a car and driver so Polly could travel to help train medical staffs.”
While in Haiti, Polly received a vibrant sampler as a gift from Belgian nuns who ran a Catholic school there. Down through the centuries, many religious groups were known for their skilled handwork and embroidery skills. Missionaries traveled the globe teaching needlework to children as a routine part of the curriculum.
In this instance, Jane explains, needlework skills not only helped girls learn academic subjects, but they also assisted in developing proficiency in a trade for earning a living to help support themselves and their families.
In this sense, the cross-stitch project truly was a sampler to be referenced again and again for motifs to decorate handkerchiefs, purses, scarves, napkins and other items for the tourist trade. Whether traveling in Haiti or visiting websites, hand-stitched items are a common product offered for purchase even today.
“The nuns were outstanding teachers for the students,” Jane notes, as is evidenced by the fine and neat execution of every stitch.
Some very traditional and longstanding motifs—roosters, roses, a stag and geometric designs—join motifs with local flair—people, a palm tree and a crayfish—to create a stylized and vibrant work of art that is both practical and pretty.
Although the entire alphabet is not included, a few letters in varied type fonts appear just inside the top and bottom borders. The word “baby” in English and French as well as the location and date are the only other texts. Centrally located, although not large, is a stylized version of the Haitian coat of arms.
Measuring 101/2" high by 151/8" wide, the sampler is hem-stitched on all four sides. Threads appear to be cotton worked on tightly woven linen. They have retained their vibrant colors.
In addition to the sampler’s origins, the sampler also has a special meaning for Jane because it was stitched the year she was born. “It is so whimsical and finely worked. The back is so neat and constant. It brings me great joy and peace,” Jane adds.
Traditional and local Haitian motifs create a vibrant work of art.
A stylized version of the Haiti coat of arms is included in the sampler now in the possession of Jane and Ron Woellhof.