Date of this Version
Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario
When I began to research needlework in the early 1980s the Library of Congress Catalogue directed me not to needlework, or even embroidery, but to the letter “W” – Women’s Work – the first step in a long and tangled journey. When I recently came across an 1890s photograph of a Canadian woman and her embroidery by Hannah Maynard all I had to do was turn to Google to be directed to the BC Archives. My first reaction was glee – my second dismay – with 300+ hits how could I not know Mrs. Maynard?
To date, Hannah Maynard (1834-1918), remains a relative unknown. Her work came under scrutiny in the late 1970s – for what one author described as its “freakish, goofy, and often grotesque quality” and the designation “eccentric” continues to be used in describing both the artist and her photographs. Most of these references are limited to books on Canadian photography. However, eccentric suggests that she deviated from conventional practices or patterns and as a textile historian I disagree. There is a pattern here. It is my intention to show that Maynard’s photographs, with their repeated images and lavish embellishments, are closely linked to contemporary needlework – fashionable domestic embroidery and crazy quilts – and to suggest that it was this familiarity with the decorative and the domestic that allowed Hannah Maynard to move between the private and public spheres.
While the British Columbia Archives in Victoria hold a large collection of Maynard negatives and several original photographs there are few business or personal documents to provide insights into the life and work of this artist. Of the images themselves, the majority fulfil contemporary expectations regarding portraiture and photography. I have identified these as her public images and include the studio portraits, group portraits, documented events, and landscapes. That these were truly in the public domain is underscored by an American journal of 1887 which proposed that “Photographers would not lose anything were they to send to [Mrs. Maynard] and secure a set of these views, and frame and hang them in their reception rooms…”