This sampler, made by Laura Bowker (1805-1843), is part of a small group of pictorial samplers worked by girls from Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. Each of the charming works features a woman standing in a pastoral setting with trees, rolling hills, a pair of lambs, and an oversized basket of flowers. These bonneted ladies hold bouquets or garlands of flowers, and their faces are made of applied painted paper. Metal and chenille thread add further textural interest to the scenes. Laura’s sampler also incorporates kid leather, which she used to create her lambs. The Fitzwilliam samplers are framed with an elegant floral border, which sometimes includes grape vines with dangling bunches of fruit.
A sampler by a second Bowker sister, Melancia (1803-1875), also dated 1817, is almost identical to Laura’s. Other related samplers were made in 1818 by Betsey Fay (1802-1828) and in 1821 by Nancy S. Perkins (1807-1875), both of Fitzwilliam. (Melancia and Betsey’s samplers are in private collections, and Nancy’s is owned by the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design.) The Fitzwilliam samplers were probably worked under the instruction of Laura and Melancia’s older sister, Betsey Bowker Wright (1795-1880), who taught in the town.
Laura Bowker was the daughter of Charles Bowker (c. 1758-1839), a blacksmith, and Beulah Stone (1767-1836). The second youngest of eight children, she had three sisters and four brothers. In 1826, Laura married Ebenezer Roby (1802-1848), a carpenter. The couple moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and had four children: Laura Ann Bowker (1828-1900), Ebenezer (b. 1829), George Newell (b. 1833), and Arthur Melville (b. 1837). Laura died of typhoid fever in 1843 at the age of thirty-eight.
Jennifer N. Johnson holds a degree from the Parsons/Cooper-Hewitt Master’s Program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design. While pursuing her studies, she completed a two-year fellowship researching the Cooper-Hewitt’s American sampler collection. She is currently a Marcia Brady Tucker Fellow in the American Decorative Arts department at Yale University Art Gallery.