Centre Furnace Mansion pulls on the threads of history

The “Unraveling the Threads of History” exhibit runs through late September at the Centre Furnace Mansion.
The “Unraveling the Threads of History” exhibit runs through late September at the Centre Furnace Mansion. Photo provided

A stitch in time can do many things.

Assuming you don’t have to save nine or anything, you might want to take an hour and check out the “Unraveling the Threads of History” exhibit at the Centre Furnace Mansion.

The rich tapestry of — funnily enough — tapestries, is focused on samplers, relics from the late 19th century that at first glance definitely have more in common with the ABC song than they do a plate full of buffalo wings.

“These samplers really do capture family history. They capture the history of an era,” Mary Sorensen, executive director of the Centre County Historical Society, said.

They’re also a super fun way to learn your ABCs. Young girls would weave the cloth from linen, incorporating the alphabet, numerology or the occasional prayer.

In some instances, those passages tended to border on the macabre.

“There was a lot of sickness. ... They didn’t live as long as we do now, so they were considering their end,” Sorensen said.

Most of the collection at Centre Furnace Mansion is on loan from private collectors, but long before they became conversation pieces for historians, the samplers were family heirlooms.

The exhibit highlights work cultivated from throughout central Pennsylvania, including Philipsburg, Mifflin County and New Berlin.

One wall focuses specifically on the students of Sarah Tucker, a subscription school teacher and needlework instructor who worked in Bellefonte during the 19th century.

Tucker apparently had high standards — the young women in her charge wove samplers festooned with intricately detailed illustrations of tulips and other foliage.

“Imagine them sitting down and focusing on a piece like this,” Sorensen said.

It must have made what came next seem easy by comparison. The samplers were considered a training ground for some of the monotonous responsibilities to come, like embroidering initials on clothing or weaving the family’s collection of “good” towels.

Those examples can found in glass case at the center of the exhibit, which will hold its opening reception at 2 p.m. Sunday and run through the end of the summer.

Sorensen thinks it’s an opportunity for visitors to get a look at an aspect of family life that sometimes goes overlooked in the annals of history.

“Wives and children really weren’t documented all that much,” Sorensen said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready


  • What: “Unraveling the Threads of History”
  • When: opening reception 2-4 p.m. Sunday; exhibit runs through Sept. 24
  • Where: Centre Furnace Mansion, 1001 E. College Ave., State College
  • Info: www.centrehistory.org