Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Scandal Behind the Image

By: Chris Rossi, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

Many older pieces of folk art are created on material that might not normally be called “archivally approved”. Some of these same materials are used to back works of art as well. So it shouldn’t have been surprising to find that our lovely needlework picture created by Sally S. Washburn in January of 1808 was backed and sewn to an 1807 edition of the Otsego Herald.

What did come as a revelation were two little advertisements listed in that paper. I have this crazy idea that bad public behavior is a phenomenon of the modern age. I stand corrected. What we have in the 1807 Otsego Herald, from Oxford New York is the public airing of a private spat. Move over Tiger and Elin, Jenny and Mark Sanford, the Sills are hard at it in the press.

The October 30 advertisement, posted by Mr. Andrew Sills warns neighbors against harboring or trusting his wife, as he “shall pay no debts of her contracting.” Mrs. Parnell Sills takes it one step further in her advertisement. There she warns the public, more particularly all females “….against trusting him in any respect, for fear he will deceive and abase them, as he has the subscriber.” This after a preamble where in she gives hints at the numerous imprudences of her husband, including some that seem rather risqué for print in a public paper of the period. What happened with the Sills?! The advertisements leave one speculating on what went so terribly wrong that it would lead to dueling personal ads in an 1807 local newspaper. Then in contrast we have the needlework picture–a lovely depiction of domestic bliss with lovers courting against the backdrop of a charmingly rendered house and gardens. Who would ever imagine the intrigue and scandal that lurks hidden on the flip side of that innocent image.

Above: Needlework Picture by Sally S. Washburn, 1808, Fenimore Art Museum Collection along with Otsego Herald backing and close-up of articles.


Tobi Voigt said...

What an amazing find! Thanks for sharing!

Jenn Mac said...

Interesting indeed. I bet The Sills had no idea their spat would be read about so many years later!!

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