This silk needlework picture from the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library collection is one of my favorite pieces. It shows allegorical figures of Wisdom (Athena wearing a helmet), Strength (Hercules wearing a lion skin and holding crossed keys) and Beauty (Venus trailing a rose vine) and commemorates the service of Benjamin Russell (1761-1845) as Master of Boston's Rising States Lodge in 1808.
The silk background fabric has been painted with watercolors to create the blue sky with white clouds and the grassy ground. An all-seeing eye at top, symbolizing watchfulness, and the faces of the figures have also been painted onto the fabric, likely by a professional artist. The unidentified maker of this picture, probably a young woman, then used silk thread to stitch the central monument. Masonic symbols and an inscription complete the picture. Pictures like this one were expensive to make and required a stitcher to have skill with the needle. If the stitcher made mistakes and stitches had to be pulled out, it could cause holes in the fabric, ruining the piece.
The design for the needlework comes from a Masonic Past Master's Certificate, originally engraved by John Hawksworth, active in England between about 1815 and 1845. The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library holds eight examples of the printed certificate. One, for Richard Colton of Northfield, Massachusetts' Harmony Lodge is dated 1818, but the other seven were presented during between 1896 and 1954, suggesting that the design remained popular for a long time and was restruck at least once. The collection of the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, on extended loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, also includes two examples of the certificate, one dated 1821 and one dated 1916.
The inscription on the needlework picture reads: "To all regular Lodges / The Rt. Worshipfull presiding and / past Masters / thereof / The / Members of / Rising States Lodge / situate in th[e] Town of Boston / No. under our jurisdiction / Elected Bror. / Benj. Russell / the bearer Most Worshipfull Master / A.L. 58 In which / station he was a Light to his / Brethren and an ornament to the / Craft / This testimonial of his meritorious / service recommends him to / the hospitality A.L. / and protection due to a faithful overseer / 5808 / by order of the Most Worshipfull Grand Ma[ster] / John Proctor Grand Secretary."
Benjamin Russell, who published Boston's Columbian Centinel newspaper from 1784 until 1829, joined the city's Rising States Lodge in the 1790s, later affiliating with Boston's St. John's Lodge in 1811. From 1814 through 1816, Russell served as Grand Master of Massachusetts.
The picture is currently (August 2012) on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library in our exhibition, Threads of Brotherhood: Masonic Quilts and Textiles (see our previous post about the exhibition and this post about related gallery talks). We hope you will plan a visit soon to see this picture in person!
Masonic Needlework Picture, 1808, Unidentified Maker, Massachusetts, Special Acquisitions Fund, 76.33.1. Photograph by John M. Miller.