Sunday 19 July 2009

Ackworth School Motifs - The Swan

Although Mary Wigham's sampler can be said to be typical of Ackworth School, it is rare in that it does not possess that defining Quaker medallion - the Swan. There are four types of Swan that appear on the samplers, ranging from a rather chubby duck to a most elegant specimen. A first tentative explanation was that it recalled the tale of Cygnus from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Children at Ackworth were schooled in the classics and the tale of Cygnus' repeated diving to save his friend Phaethon who crashed the sun's chariot into the water appeared to be a symbol of agape - self-sacrificing love. The theory was also helped along by the prominence of the star cluster, since there is constellation named Cygnus.

However, children at Ackworth also read Aesop. This is my copy of 1740 by Samuel Richardson, 'curiously' illustrated for children. Aesop has a fable of the Swan and the Stork. The Stork asked the dying Swan why it was singing - it seemed perverse to do so. The Swan replied that it would no longer be in danger of snares, guns or hunger - who would not enjoy such a deliverance? It could be you might be able to shed more light on this.


  1. Beautiful swans!
    Yesterday I worked on my Beatrix Potter Quaker Sampler and stitched the swan motif :))

  2. Jacqueline if I had to give a caption to those medallions it would be "imprisoned lonely beauty" - in my opinion, fruit of a fertile imagination, the girls could be expressing how they felt through a medallion: all girls are beautiful at that age and like to socialize, these ones couldn't and felt very lonely and caged/in a deserted island in a certain way.

    Thank you for the fresh wind you are bringing to me in a weekend I am sitting correcting final national exams of English.

  3. Thanks for giving this information on the swan and the reason it may so often be in Ackworth samplers.

  4. I love all the swan images you posted. I look forward to your posts every day.

  5. I certainly enjoyed seeing all of the swan images and ready the story behind the swan and the stars.

    Thank you.