Hood Quarterly, autumn 2003
In mid-nineteenth-century America, drawing was an important skill enjoyed by many amateur women and schoolgirls, particularly those privileged to study at private female academies. Along with music, needlework, and fine penmanship, the ability to draw conveyed one’s proper education and appreciation for beauty—qualities highly valued in a prospective wife, mother, or future teacher.
The Hood Museum of Art is delighted to have received as a gift from Professor of Theater Margaret E. Spicer a collection of delightful mid-nineteenth-century sketchbooks and drawings made by her maternal ancestors: Mary Amelia Tyler (1826–1904) of Cheshire, Massachusetts; Helen Covell Wolcott (about 1830–1857), also of Cheshire; and possibly Helen’s sister, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Sarah Wolcott (1828–1867).
Around 1850, Helen studied at the Pittsfield Young Ladies Institute in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and in the late 1840s, Lizzie attended the Williston Seminary in East Hampton, Massachusetts. Most of the drawings in this collection appear to have been copied from prints and book illustrations, as was the usual practice in female seminaries. In one ink drawing, the artist used stencils and sponging to create a strikingly graphic portrayal of neoclassical buildings, possibly an academic institution.
This gift is particularly timely since the Hood Museum of Art is currently intensively studying its collection of American watercolors and drawings in preparation for Marks of Distinction in 2005. These charming and accomplished drawings provide an important perspective on the importance of art in the education and lives of American women in the nineteenth century.