Mary Nissley

Mount Joy, Lancaster County,
Pennsylvania, 1841

sampler size: 18” x 16” • framed size: 22” x 20” • price: $3800

Samplers made by Pennsylvania German girls share strong characteristics and, in general, are unlike most other American samplers. Tandy and Charles Hersh’s book, Samplers of the Pennsylvania Germans (The Pennsylvania German Society, Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, 1991) provides a comprehensive study of these.  Some of these samplermakers included distinctive motifs that are found only on these samplers and some combine these with more mainstream designs and techniques. This sampler made by Mary Nissley, a young Mennonite girl, is a very appealing example of the latter. 
The large central area is filled with Pennsylvania German motifs that float in a random but balanced  composition, while the lower portion presents a tightly worked verse and an exceptionally fine surround accomplished in very beautiful queen's-stitched strawberries. Two other motifs, the heart at left and a large strawberry at right, are also worked in the queen's-stitch. Much of this lower portion resembles samplers made in Philadelphia and other cities. 

The sampler is signed along the third line from the top, “Mary Nissly 1841 March,” and the verse reads, “Mary Nissley is my name / Mountjoy is my station / Heaven is my dwelling place / & Christ is my salvation / When I am dead & in my grave / & all my bones are rotten / When this you see remember me / Else I shall be forgotten.” 

The Nissley family in America began with Jacob Nissley, who emigrated from Palatinate, Germany and settled in Mount Joy Township. Mary was born in 1828, the daughter of John Kraybill (1800-1885) and Barbara (Snyder 1806-1875) Nissley of Mount Joy, Lancaster County, according to Mennonite Vital Records. Mary married a cousin, Martin Nissley, and they became the parents of at least four children. She died in 1886 and is buried with family members in Kraybill Mennonite Cemetery in Mount Joy. 

The Nissley family (spelling variations include Nissly and N+isley in fact Mary spelled her surname differently in the two places she used it on this sampler) lived in Mount Joy and nearby Rapho Township. Three of Mary’s cousins made samplers that are listed in Samplers of the Pennsylvania Germans, and that by Mary Nissley, dated 1840 is illustrated as figure 4-76.  A sampler made by another cousin, Fanny Nissley in 1839 (link: https://philamuseum.org/collection/object/65479), is in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and published as plate 159 in The Fine Art of Textiles The Collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art by Dilys E. Blum (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1997). 

Two of the three Nissley cousin samplers include the same verse as Mary, and one, made by Martha Nissley in 1842, names her school on the sampler - Mrs. Zook’s School. We feel that it’s very likely that our Mary made her sampler while attending that school as well. 

The sampler was worked in silk on linen and is in excellent condition. Please see a photo below of the back of the sampler taken prior to mounting. It has been conservation mounted and is in a cherry frame with black bead. 
 

Nissley verso
photo of reverse

 

 

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