Daily Archives: October 26, 2016

The Incredible Embroidery of Catherine Hewitt Pfordt

Published by:

Yesterday we noted that one of the awardees in Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition in 1876 was Mrs. C. Hewitt Pfordt of Albany. For embroidery she submitted, she was commended “for great taste in design and workmanship, displaying extraordinary skill.”

A supplement to Scientific American described her submission: “A white silk flag is elegantly worked with the national emblems, by Mrs. C. Hewitt Pfordt, Albany, N.Y.”
That’s all we find in the record of awards about her embroidery work, other than that it hung in Section D of the Women’s Pavilion. It would appear that “C.” stood for “Catherine,” also known as Mrs. Joseph Pfordt. The banner she made was apparently originally created for the St. Jean Baptiste Society. The Albany Daily Evening Times of July 13, 1875, described “A Splendid Embroidered Banner”:

Since the seventh of May last Mrs. Joseph Pfordt has been incessantly at work embroidering a handsome silk banner for the St. Jean Baptiste society, originally intended to be carried by them at the celebration of St. John’s day on the 24th of June, but which, owing to some alterations ordered by the society, could not be finished in time and will be unfurled to the public gaze for the first time on the occasion of the picnic of the St. Jean Baptiste societies of Troy, Cohoes and Albany, at the fair grounds, on the 27th inst. The banner has now reached so near completion that a just and accurate description of it can be given, and having, through the kindness of Mrs. Pfordt been allowed to give it a critical inspection we unhesitatingly say that without doubt it is one of the finest, if not the finest, of embroidered banners in the state. It is seven feet in height and five feet in breadth, the body being composed of heavy white corded silk. Upon the front side is a medallion, one yard by three-quarters of a yard, within which stands a figure of St. John as he is supposed to have appeared in early manhood. In one hand is a staff, from the top of which hangs a scroll containing the words “Ecce Agnus Dei,” while the other is extended gracefully forward as if its owner were proclaiming the coming of Our Lord. In front is a lamb, emblematical of our Savior, and two palm trees, while in the background looms up a range of mountains at a great distance. The design of this medallion, as was also that of the one on the opposite side, was prepared by Mr. E. Prentice Treadwell of this city, and is decidedly complimentary to the taste and skill of that artist. The work of Mrs. Pfordt in reproducing upon the banner Mr. Treadwell’s design was almost equal in difficulty to the preparation of the design itself, since in addition to the necessity of making it life-like and natural the colors had to be selected by the embroiderer, which required the exercise of great care and taste. That Mrs. Pfordt has succeeded in her attempt the results of her labors are a sufficient testimonial. Over the medallion is a scroll bearing the inscription “Society St. Jean Baptist D’Albany, N.Y.,” and underneath it a similar one with “Fondee Le 1er Janvier, 1868.” The upper and lower corners of this side of the banner contain remarkably accurate representations of the famous passion flower and leaves copied from nature.
Upon the opposite side of the banner is a medallion, similar in size to the other, bearing the coat of arms of Canada — a beaver knawing [sic] the roots of a maple tree. Over this is the inscription “Aidons Nous Les Un Les Autres,” and beneath, “L’Union Fait La Force.” On each corner are maple leaves.
The banner, which is worked throughout in silk and chenille, will be trimmed with heavy bullion fringe and braid, while from the bottom points will be suspended heavy bullion tassels. Altogether it is a perfect model of embroidery skill. It was the original intention of the society to send to France to have a banner made, but upon reflection it was determined to encourage home talent, and so the difficult task was awarded to Mrs. Pfordt. That their conclusion was a wise one is evinced by the result, and the work is sufficiently praiseworthy to find a place in Philadelphia at the centennial as an exhibition of Albany talent, taste and skill.

Well, that certainly made it sound like the intent was to present the St. Jean Baptiste Society banner at the Centennial Exhibition, but what little description of what was presented makes it seem like that was not the case. The Chicago Tribune, in its coverage of the Exposition on May 16, 1876, gushed about her work:

There are two remarkable works on exhibition in the Woman’s Pavilion. They both represent in different ways such a vast amount of labor and long-acquiring skill as to produce a feeling of real pain in the mind of the beholder. In the presence of these works, one is overcome rather with awe than with admiration. They are located close together, near the south entrance, on the left. One is a banner nearly 6 feet square. The material is white satin, and upon this ground is wrought the most delicate and ingenious embroidery that I ever saw. There is a fringe around the whole piece, of golden-tinted silk, tastefully and elaborately designed. In the centre is a representation of the Great Seal of the United States, so faithfully worked out as to convey the perfect impression of a fine painting. Of course it is in many colors, yet all rich and harmonious. One side of the banner shows the coat-of-arms, the double eagle, and the shield, with the eternally grand motto, “E Pluribus Unum”; while underneath are twin sprigs of oak, leaved and acorned, forming a graceful half-wreath. The opposite side shows the Pyramid rising out of the desert. Nothing could be more perfect, as a work of art. It was made by C.H. Pfordt, of Albany.

Catherine Pfordt was born about 1840 and was married to Joseph B. Pfordt, a florist (Pfordt’s Florist continued at least through 1922, when it was run by Marcella Pfordt, on Broadway between North Ferry and Thacher) . It appears Catherine died in 1887 and is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands.