This embroidered cloth was given to Zoe and Edmund Smith around 1980 by Mrs Lucy Nicholas (born 1887) who was described by the donor as around 90 years old at that time. Lucy Nicholas was the daughter of Edwin Henry John Mitchell (1848–1929) and Annie Margaret Solly (born 1859). Edwin Mitchell was the son of Catherine Augusta Mitchell (nee Keast 1812–99), to whom the cloth is attributed. Lucy Nicholas gave the embroidery to Mr and Mrs Smith for display in a small museum they had established in the old Lisdillon church on the Tasman highway on the east coast of Tasmania. The cloth was donated to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in May 2008 by Edmund Smith in memory of his wife Zoe Smith.
This embroidered cloth is attributed to Catherine Augusta Mitchell (1812–99) and was made at Lisdillon, a property on the east coast of Tasmania. It is distinguished by both the exacting reproduction of native plants and by the highly sophisticated use of varied threads and stitching techniques to accurately represent characteristics of the plants such as colour, reflectivity and texture. While native plants are represented in many embroidered works made in the nineteenth century, they are often somewhat generic in character. In the case of this work, however, the plants represented are specific in nature—heathland plants from eastern Tasmania. Their unique characteristics are represented in sufficient detail to accurately identify them.
In mid-nineteenth century Tasmania there was a strong interest in botany, particularly among a group of women associated with Louisa Ann Meredith (1812–95). Mrs Meredith, the wife of east-coast farmer and later politician, Charles Meredith (1811–80), was an enthusiastic amateur natural historian and botanical illustrator. Her work inspired many women in the community. Sketching and embroidery based on observation of native plants were ways in which women could engage in scientific interests that in the mid-nineteenth century were otherwise the exclusive domain of men.
Square bed or table cover of black, twill-weave cotton fabric with embroidered decoration of realistically rendered plant motifs. The square is made up of a central panel with narrow panels added to two sides to make a larger square. The cloth is decorated with wool embroidery of over twenty Tasmanian native flowers and plants. Flowers are arranged in a central, circular wreath and as sprigs along the border and in the corners. A fine line of white piping runs along the joins where the cloth has been pieced together; false joins have been included along two sides to produce a symmetrical design with squares at each corner. The piping runs under the plant embroidery. The backing is plain weave black cloth (possibly not original).
Plants represented include: several varieties of acacia, Banksia marginata, Platylobium, Dillwynia, Callitris, Indigofera, Rubus, Clematis, Leucopogon, Allocasuarina Veronica formosa, Epacris, Melaleuca, Kennedia prostrata, Bursaria spinosa, Comesperma volubile and Hibbertia.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of Tasmanian colonial decorative arts. This includes items made in Tasmania from 1803 to 1901. The Catherine Mitchell embroidered cloth is of great historical and aesthetic interest. The cloth was the product of an intense interest in botany amongst a small number of women in the mid- to late nineteenth century. This interest reflects both contemporary trends in the dominant European culture and the colonist’s exploration of, and attachment to, their adopted home. The cloth exhibits a high degree of technical sophistication and aesthetic judgment in its accurate representation of the plants in a medium not generally used to reproduce such verisimilitude.