Welcome to Caribou Mottos

Here are 173 Victorian era, punched paper pattern, needlepoint mottos collected by Mrs. Jane Webster over a period of thirty years. Until her death in 2009, these were meticulously installed in an old house adjacent to her main home overlooking Caribou Harbour, Nova Scotia.

Over a cup of tea, in 2006, Jane suggested I tour the old house and see her collection. Nothing prepared me for the beauty of walls crowed with rows of needlepoint messages, both familiar and estranged from contemporary life. The words called out with a sing song echo of women’s lives and hours spent diligently stitching. Amongst the mottos I felt connected to lost stories, to the house that contained them and to Caribou Harbour itself.

These mottos are a testament to the diligence, creativity, humour and curiousity behind a will to collect. Jane Webster loved and enjoyed her collection throughout her life. She also recognized their pull for others.

Though most are anonymous and undated, the scattered identifiers are poignant and specific. Simply to thy I cling,” is identified on its reverse as, “This Motto was made in 1877 by Eleanor Rose Esson aged 11 years.” The majority are framed in period frames and some include newspaper backings dating their creation or reframing.

Approximately a quarter of the mottos reflect domestic concerns, including, “What is home without a father,” “or “What is home without a baby.” Others provide moral guidance such as “Dare to do right,” or “Knowledge is power.” Others remember the dead, “Absent but not forgotten.” Many quote scripture and hymns while a few reference popular songs. Even seasonal greetings, “Merry Christmas,” and  “Happy New Year,” are represented. Each motto reflects a personal stitch and character while following the rigid pattern of these early mass produced leisure kits.

Thank you Jane for this collection and to the Webster family for sharing this resource. We invite comments, reflections, essays and insight into the world of Victorian era needlepoint mottos and the ability of objects left behind to inform contemporary life.



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