Montco needlework among state's 10 'most endangered' artifacts

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A 19th century "fool-the-eye" table setting. This ambitious needlework done for artistic -- not practical -- purposes shows a shift in the mindset and leisure time of Pennsylvania German women. (Steve Pestrock / Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center)

The state's new list of 10 "most endangered artifacts" includes a local piece held by the Schwenkfelder Library & Heritage Center in Pennsburg.

It's a needlework "fool-the-eye" table setting designed to be purely an artistic decoration. The black wool tablecloth is topped with fake plates, silverware, platter and fruit crafted from silk applique, embroidery, clipped wool and brushed plushwork.

It's a conversation piece for the parlor of a 19th-century Pennsylvania German woman.  That, in itself, is remarkable because in previous years needlework had been purely utilitarian. 

It's a little quirky.  Very creative.  Probably unique.  And reminiscent of some of today's flamboyantly ambitious do-it-yourself Pinterest projects.

According to the "Save This Artifact" page at the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, the piece "marks not only the assimilation of the majority of Pennsylvania German women into broader American culture, but also the freeing up of leisure time for these women."

Organizers say the table setting is difficult to display because the materials are unstable and can deteriorate when moved.  Restoration would allow them to stabilize the piece and loan it to other institutions.

“We can’t stress the unique nature of this table covering enough,” said Candace Perry, curator of collections at the Schwenkfelder Library. “There is apparently no other example like it in existence. It is truly an object with a sense of humor that never fails to elicit a smile or a comment.”

It's competing against nine other state treasures.  As of today it's at No. 2, behind a Philadelphia abolitionist's visitors book, and ahead of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens' wig. 

The online contests allows you to vote, donate or share your favorite artifact.  You can do that as often as you want, for as many items as you want.  The top scoring item on Nov. 1 will win the People's Choice Award, but all 10 items will receive some funding no matter how many donations they get.