Curator’s Choice

Landing of Columbus, Oct. 12, 1492

Landing of Columbus, Oct. 12, 1492

2004.35.2
Picture, Woven
Thomas Stevens, 1893 (Stevengraphs)
Gift of Matthew S. and Barbara Santangelo
H 2 1/2 in. X W 7 3/4 in. (actual)

The image is from the painting by American Neoclassical artist John Vanderlyn (1775-1852). Commissioned circa 1836-37, it was placed in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol in 1847. Here he epitomizes a man of vision and faith who overcame a host of obstacles to make the greatest landfall in history. Christopher Columbus is shown landing in the West Indies, on an island the natives called Guanahani and which he named San Salvador, on Oct. 12, 1492. He raises the royal banner to claim the land for his Spanish patrons, and he stands bareheaded, with his hat at his feet, in honor of the sacredness of the event. The captains of the Niña and Piñta follow, carrying the banner of Ferdinand and Isabella. The crew displays a range of emotions, while some search for gold in the sand. Natives watch warily from behind a tree.

The silk picture is one of two related pieces, the other is known as Columbus Leaving Spain. Both were woven by the firm of Thomas Stevens at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and are known by the collectible term Stevengraphs.

Thomas Stevens invented the title Stevengraphs and the first recorded use of this title was on the paper backing label of his woven silk bookmarks. The first Stevens picture was recorded in May 1879.

Stevengraphs is the trade name for silk pictures made on a modified type of JACQUARD LOOM by Thomas Stevens of Coventry, England from 1879 onwards. He stimulated sales at the various expositions by sending his weavers with his version of the Jacquard loom, where visitors could watch a souvenir being woven on the spot. Large cards carried out the artistʼs picture and a separate card was made and perforated for each color in every single woven line of the picture. The cards were put into an endless chain arrangement in the Jacquard loom to regulate the operation of the warp threads. Many pieces used 10 to 12 colors.

Stevens died in 1888 but his firm appears to have continued production until 1938. The factory was bombed in 1940 by the Germans, leveling his buildings and his business. However his craft lives on in the appreciation of hundreds of antique collectors who specialize in Stevengraphs in England, Canada, Scotland, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, as well as in the United States.