Prudence Rossiter Punderson

 

was a Preston, Connecticut, artist who stitched unique needlework pictures during the American Revolutionary War. The Connecticut Historical Society is therepository for her letters, poetry, and drawings, as well as the artist’s known body of work, consisting of thirteen needlework pictures stitched with crimped silk flosson satin.Punderson was the first of eight children of Ebenezer Punderson (an avowed Tory supporter of the British) and Prudence Geer Punderson. All holdings of the familywere confiscated in 1778. The family fled to Long Island, where the comfortable existence they had known in Connecticut turned into a life of hardship, terror, and poverty during the American Revolution. Forced to engage in domestic work to survive, Punderson overcame many personal trials and a serious illness in 1780, whichthreatened her ability to work with her needle.Twelve of Punderson’s works are lively and imaginative individual portrayals of Christ’s Apostles, inspired by print sources. Her most celebrated work, however, is the iconic The First, Second and Last Scene of Mortality, which depicts two perspectives on eighteenth-century America not usually found in needlework.Punderson’s picture reveals the brevity of the life expectancy for women and provides a rare view of a home interior, c. 1775. Most commonly called the Mortality Picture, it is a self-portrait stitched with precise detail. The direct gaze of the sitter draws the viewer into her parlor, which is furnished with familiar objects: aChippendale side chair and mirror, a framed needlework picture, a tripod table with ball-and-claw feet, and a woven and fringed checkerboard carpet. PrudencePunderson sits at a table which holds a ruler, compass, inkwell, and fabric square, drawing a pattern for her needlework. At her left lies a baby in a bonneted cradle, being rocked by a black nursemaid, which raises questions regarding slavery in Connecticut. At her right a coffin with the initials “PP” sits atop a drop-leaf table. Themirror is covered with white cloth, as was customary for funerals held at home. The First, Second and Last Scene of Mortality by Prudence Punderson is both animportant work of folk art and a social document of American history.At war’s end, Punderson’s prophetic needlework became a reality. She married Timothy Wells Rossiter on October 20, 1783. Their daughter Sophia was born onJuly 18, 1784, and Punderson died September 16, 1784, at age 26. She is buried in the Maple Cemetery in Berlin, Connecticut.