By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
An alphabet sampler stitched by a Chicago Jewish schoolgirl in 1868 is one of the first Judaica objects acquired by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation to tell the stories of all early Americans.
“The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation sees the objects in its collections as documents of the people, places, and events of the past,” said Ronald L. Hurst, the Foundation’s Carlisle Humelsine Chief Curator and Vice President for Collections, Conservation, and Museums. “Because we use these objects to tell the compelling stories of early Americans, we seek to acquire things that speak to the full range of their experiences, whatever their race, religion, gender, age, or cultural ethnicity may have been.”
The Jewish additions to the collection besides the alphabet sampler include a yad, silver kiddush cup, a porcelain stand with a Jewish family crest and a porcelain cup and saucer with a Jewish family crest.
The sampler came to the foundation through a dealer in antique needlework. It will be part of a future needlework exhibition that focuses on American regionalism. “It was a good addition for a number of reasons,” said Kimberly Smith Ivey, Colonial Williamsburg’s senior curator of textiles and historic interiors. “It is signed and dated with a place name of Chicago. We don’t know any samplers that survived with a place name of Chicago due probably to the great Chicago fire which destroyed most of the city.”
Ivey said that the foundation collects needlework and quilts to tell stories “less representative in our historical dialogue. They speak to the story of Jewish survival and assimilation in the United States.”
Colonial Williamsburg showcases the American colonial experience, but it also has a folk art museum, the Abbie Aldridge Rockefeller Museum, that has exhibits to the present day. “We are endeavoring to speak to many cultures of our nation,” Ivey said, “to be able to reach out to a whole group of Americans.”
Research has identified Rachel Cole as being born Aug. 18, 1854. She is the daughter of Sarah Frank, an immigrant from Germany. Her father is Samuel Cole, an Austrian immigrant. Samuel Cole was the cofounder of Congregation Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv (KAM), Chicago’s first Jewish synagogue.
Rachel attended the Jones School, a Chicago public school and the KAM school. She stitched the sampler at age 14, considered late for an alphabet sampler. She married Michael Rosenfeld in 1877. He was the son of Levy Rosenfeld, the owner of a dry goods store that was the first meeting place of KAM.
This Kiddush cup, probably made by William Harrison in London about 1775, was the first piece of silver Judaica to be added to the Colonial Williamsburg collection. It is an elegant example with a circular stepped foot and a tapered stem that supports an egg-shaped cup with a gilded interior. It is engraved with three lines of Hebrew, “Remember the Sabbath day, and sanctify it,” within a shield suspended from a bow-knot and flanked by slender foliate sprays.
The yad, made in Birmingham, England, between 1843-1844, is made of silver with gold gilding, which was the predominant material used to make yads since the early 1600s.
The hard-paste porcelain stand, made in Jingdezhen, China came from a prominent Sephardic Jew family named D’Aguilar. They were London merchants and sugar planters in the 18th century. A hard-paste porcelain cup and saucer comes from the Aaron Goldsmid family, a merchant in Hamburg who relocated to London and established a bullion-brokerage firm. The Goldsmid family was known for its philanthropy and financier endeavors.
Ivy said that the artifacts collected by the foundation “tell stories of all the diverse cultures in America so each person coming to Williamsburg can find something they can connect to.”