A Girl in her Pinafore can go anywhere!

December 6, 2014

Sarah S. Stilwell-Weber was foremost a visual storyteller, her imagery reflecting fragile spontaneity of dreams and fairy tales with undercurrents of real tensions of the Industrial Age so that actions in her compositions jump beyond the boundaries of the page. A girl in her pinafore could go anywhere… and accomplish anything. Pinafores, wraparound garments like aprons were worn to protect girls’ clothes from soil; they were requisite for active outdoor play. Over the years, Stilwell-Weber turned this ordinary functional garment into an elaborate fashion statement with intricate floral fabric designs, laces, and even fringe.

In 1899, Stilwell illustrated Edward Sanford Martin’s The Luxury of Children and Some Other Luxuries (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1905). Humorist, poet, and essayist Edward Martin (1856-1939) offers insights on children and childhood that Stilwell illuminates with seven black and white plates tinted alternately with orange and green with images of children at play, study, meals during daily life. The Frontispiece “Easter-time” shows a girl with Easter eggs nested on a pillow on a sofa (green); “Feeding the chickens” shows a girl wearing a pinafore feeding chickens in front of a stone wall (orange); “A New Day” shows a girl rising in her bed from beneath a fluffy patchwork quilt and looking out the window at the new day (green); “Breakfast” shows a girl eating cereal as her mother places a glass of milk on the table featuring popular “Blue Willow” patterned dishes; “In School” features the same girl in a pinafore working on a lesson on cursive writing in a reader working on a small slate; “Sewing” shows a girl seated in a big chair piecing together squares for a quilt; “In Paddling” is a misty images of a girl wading along a shoreline; and “Shadow-Time” shows a girl seated on her mother’s lap in an embrace before bedtime.

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