Theorem painting - stenciling

DEFINITION

An early American technique of decorating dating to the Colonial period and lasting in popularity to the post-Civil War period. Theorem painting has mostly flourished in New England, New York and Pennsylvania. The word "Theorem" means formula or expression of relationships. The effect is achieved with stencils, either commercially-made or hand-made, which are placed adjacent to each other in overlays on paper or cloth such as velvet. Resulting designs are colored, usually with watercolor or oil. This technique was popular among women from the early 1800s because the results could be very attractive in home decorating, were well-received as gifts, and could be achieved by non-professionally trained persons. Still-life was the most popular subject, especially fruit in bowls, with each piece constructed from a separate stencil. In those days mastery of handiwork was considered essential to being an accomplished woman, and young ladies often received instruction in drawing, painting and needlework. As the country prospered, increasingly more women had time for leisure activities that were purely decorative. Do-it-yourself Theorem instruction books were available as were ???drawing cards???, sold in decks, with designs for copying. Ready-made stencils were for the less creative who did not want to make their own designs and patterns, and women???s magazines offered Theorem patterns. However, many young women took their Theorem painting very seriously. Portfolios of some of them contain detailed study notes, color samples, sketches, etc. The method is not widespread today because of the lack of widespread publication of the patterns, most of which were passed down through the generations. American artists who were Theorem painters include Emma Jane Cady and Sarah Ward. Sources: Jean Hansen Publications, http://www.jeanhansen.com/content/Theorem_Painting/3; Jean Lipman and Alice Winchester, ???The Flowering of American Folk Art??? (LPD)

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